50 pastors and ministers from Alex Hawke's electorate unite to advocate for Afghan asylum seekers

Fifty church pastors and ministers who live and work in the Mitchell Electorate in Sydney have co-signed a letter to Liberal MP and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke advocating for Afghan asylum seekers. Signatories include representatives from Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Uniting and Independent Baptist Churches.

“Australia has had a long tradition of generously resettling refugees and displaced persons who flee their home countries due to war, conflict and violence. This was especially evident in the wake of the Fall of Saigon and the boat people crisis that ensued. Australia has changed for the better with each successive wave of new arrivals, because people like me have brought our determination and drive for a better future,” Bishop Vincent Long, the Catholic Bishop of Parramatta and the Chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service told Eternity.

“We need to honour this legacy by showing the Afghan people fleeing oppression and violence our compassion and solidarity, because I believe that this is the true identity of the country I have made my home. In view of our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, we also have a moral duty to do so.”

“Australia has changed for the better with each successive wave of new arrivals, because people like me have brought our determination and drive for a better future,” Bishop Vincent Long

Twenty-four of the letters co-signatories met together on a Zoom meeting last Friday evening to pray and discuss how they could unite to advocate for Afghans seeking asylum. The call was organised and facilitated by Micah Australia – a movement of Australian Christians working together for justice, including individuals, churches, and Christian development agencies. Micah’s Executive Director, Tim Costello, also took part in the Zoom call.

The letter explains that its signatories are compelled by their Christian faith to advocate.

“As Christians, we believe dignity is bestowed by God and that when we say people are made in the ‘image of God’, we mean that they already have something from God,” the letter reads.

“We do not give people dignity, as they inherently have it as a gift from God. But although we do not bestow dignity, we know that humans can certainly erode that dignity.”

“So, when it is within our national power to protect dignity – whether by increasing our humanitarian intake or recognising the fears of those Afghans already here who have fled and are still waiting to be given secure residency – we are prompted by our Christian faith to speak out.

“Jesus set his affections on us. And he expects us … to set our affection on the widow, the orphan and the refugee. So this is what it means to follow Christ.” – Rev John Grey

One of the letter’s signatories, Reverend John Grey of St Paul’s Anglican Church in Castle Hill, spoke to Eternity yesterday. In explaining his reasons for signing the letter, Rev Grey referenced the teaching of the biblical book of Deuteronomy’s 10th chapter.

“The way people are being treated – it’s heartbreaking. It’s horrendous that point verifying. It must be terrifying for them,” Rev Grey said. He listed various situations he was aware of, saying, “It weighs on me.”

“And the God that I worship says, “I set my affection on you” – Deuteronomy 10 – “I’ve set my affection on you. What do I expect of you?  For you to set your affection on what theologians call ‘the quartet of the vulnerable’ – the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien or the refugee, Rev Grey continued.

“So, don’t forget that you were once slaves in Israel. You were once refugees. I had affection on you; you have it on others.”

“And in the New Testament language, we’re still aliens. We’re on a journey home. And yet Jesus set his affections on us. And he expects us, according to James, to set our affection on the widow, the orphan and the refugee. So this is what it means to follow Christ.”

Bishop Long told Eternity that churches are ready to do their part in supporting Afghans who are granted asylum in Australia.

“While the Government has a critical role to play in supporting Afghans in Australia and in their homeland, faith-based and community groups declaring they are ready to help people relocating to Australia are also part of this process,” he said.

“Catholic ministries are established to help people who are in need, regardless of their background, thus, the immediate need before us is the people of Afghanistan. We stand ready to provide care and support to people seeking new hope and a new life.”

Rev Grey agreed, saying, “if we see fit to take on 20,000 Afghan refugees, I think we’ll be richer as a nation, and we will sense that we did the right thing.”

The letter lists ‘7 practical steps’ the Australian Government can take that have been put forward by the Refugee Council of Australia, adding its signatories’ names to more than 300 organisations, businesses, and community groups who have stated their support for the seven steps.

The list includes a call for the government to dramatically increase the number of refugee resettlement places for Afghans, as it did with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. And to evacuate as many Afghans in danger as possible – including those whose lives are in danger because they have worked with foreign forces, NGOs, media, and human rights defenders.

Also specified is a request for increased aid and advocacy in the area for Afghans who are displaced from their homes.

And perhaps most challenging of all for a liberal government are three requests that relate to the visas of Afghans living in Australia (numbers 5-7 in the list).

5. We welcome the extension of temporary visas of all Afghan citizens in Australia that you announced on 17 August. A vital next step of this is to ensure that people whose asylum claims have been previously rejected be supported to submit new claims in the light of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan.

6. Extend permanent protection to 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas, recognising that members of this group are unlikely to be able to return in safety for many years to come and need the assurance that they can continue to live in Australia without the constant fear of forced return.

7. Assist Afghan Australians, including people with temporary and permanent protection visas, with urgent family reunion applications for relatives who are at particular risk, as members of minorities targeted by the Taliban or people likely to be targeted because of their connections to western nations. This should include giving priority to finalising family reunion applications which have previously been lodged but are waiting on a decision from the Department of Home Affairs.

Rev Grey confirmed he would like to see our government do much more to help Afghans already in Australia.

“The people who are here fled groups like the Taliban. They will contribute to our world, our society, and make it richer – hospitality and their character, they will contribute to our world and make our democracy stronger. Part of our DNA [as Australians] is we embrace these people,” he said.

The letter ends by urging the minister to “address these critical priorities” and an encouragement: “We are grateful for your service to our community and continue to uphold you and your family in prayer. Signed by the below Church leaders working and serving in the Mitchell Electorate”.

Read the full text of the letter and list of signatories here.