SYDNEY (ABP) – Australian Baptist leaders have called on their government to make it easier for asylum seekers fleeing religious, ethnic or political persecution to gain protection as refugees.
A policy on immigration and asylum seekers adopted by the Australian Baptist Ministries Council on Nov. 23 called on all Australians to “oppose xenophobia and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture and religion.” It challenged politicians to “demonstrate their moral convictions” through non-partisan debate on immigration and refugee policy.
The statement urged Australian Baptists to act as advocates for refugees and migrants and to oppose mandatory and offshore detention of asylum seekers. It also asked the more than 900 Australian Baptist churches affiliated with the council to “develop ministries of welcoming, reconciliation and social integration, extend hospitality through intentional friendships and relationships [and to] freely share resources with those in need.”
According to a government fact sheet, Australia provides protection for asylum seekers that meet the United Nations’ definition of a refugee. Most people who seek protection in Australia are resettled through offshore programs. Still, several thousand people already in Australia apply for protection each year, some who arrive lawfully and others who come in through improper channels by sea or air.
Until recently the government used a policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers as a deterrent to illegal immigration. The New York Times reported Nov. 26 that officials now would release people arriving by boats on temporary “bridging” visas that usually allow them to remain in the country until their application for a protection visa is processed.
Australia has struggled for years with how to deal with asylum seekers who arrive by boat. This summer the Australian Supreme Court struck down a government plan to ship such seekers to Malaysia, including unaccompanied children, as part of a refugee swap deal.
The Australian Baptist Ministries statement urged the government to reduce the need for asylum claims by addressing human-rights concerns in countries of origin. It asked for increased quotas of registered refugees over the next five years and for claims to be processed within 90 days. It called on government leaders to “cease the practice of sending unaccompanied minors to third countries” by placing child asylum seekers “in appropriate community care while their claims for refugee status are assessed.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.