Asylum seekers offered safe haven in Australian churches

10:27 am on 9 February 2016

Clergy in Australia are offering sanctuary to asylum seekers who face being sent back to the Nauru detention centre, even if authorities come to knock the doors down.

Protestors in Sydney ask the government not to send asylum-seekers back to Nauru

Protestors in Sydney ask the government not to send asylum-seekers back to Nauru. Photo: AFP / William West

More than 260 asylum seekers, including 37 babies, face the prospect of deportation to Nauru, after a High Court ruling last week approved the country's offshore processing.

The court's decision - which is unable to be appealed - found the federal government's conduct was authorised by both the law and the Australian constitution.

Brisbane's St John's Cathedral is among 20 churches that have agreed to offer sanctuary, though its dean, the Very Reverend Peter Catt, said it was still not clear if the ancient ritual of church sanctuary has any standing in modern law.

"Our understanding is that we are only working on moral force, so wherever we felt we could execute that force, we could try it. But I think there is something special about a church building, so we would choose to use a church building as a place of sanctuary, just so we can invoke that sense of the church space as a sacred space, and therefore worthy of being treated differently."

He said the church was prepared for authorities to come knocking, although he doubted they would need to lock themselves in for days.

"But we did assume that if the authorities did come we would lock the building and my thought was that the short-term outcome would be that they would knock the doors down, or withdraw and work out what their next strategy was."

Rev Catt said he would usually go out of his way to be law abiding, but the church could not stand by while asylum seekers were being deported.

"There are times when truth needs to be spoken to power and as for our asylum speaker policy in Australia, international criticism has shown how we are not keeping to our international obligations."

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