Afghan asylum seekers: Christian leaders ask Christian PM to adopt Christian response

Christian leaders have joined a chorus of advocates calling on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to do more for Afghan asylum seekers after the Taliban seized control of the nation’s government last week.

Australian Catholic Bishop Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge sent a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking the Australian Government to provide at least 20,000 humanitarian places for Afghans.

Archbishop Coleridge’s letter said the 3000 places offered above and beyond 8000 places over the past decade “is a substantial commitment, but more is needed”.

Joshua Lourensz, executive director of Catholic Social Services Victoria, has echoed the national Archbishop’s words, asking the government to provide security for approximately 50,000 Afghanistan-born people living in Australia, especially those on insecure visas.

“We are deeply concerned for and recognise the pain and difficulty of those 5100 people who have come from Afghanistan and are on a temporary protection visa in Australia – many in Victoria – who are unable, due to current policy stipulations, to apply for visas that would allow their family to come to Australia through the humanitarian program,” Lourensz said.

“In addition, they have no pathway to secure settlement. This group continue to live with an added layer of anxiety given the changing state surrounding their families who are back in their homeland.”

To date, the Prime Minister has said that Afghans who are in the Australian community on temporary protection visas would not be asked to return to Afghanistan but would not be offered permanent residency.

Lourensz said “while the Australian Government continues to withhold the ability to apply for humanitarian family reunification for this cohort, this places their lives and families in a tenuous situation. With the situation in Afghanistan fundamentally changed, Australia’s policies also need to fundamentally change”.

The National Council of Churches, a broad ecumenical council of member Australian Christian Churches, and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the council’s initiative that relates directly to asylum seekers and refugees, has also sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, outlining similar requests:

  • Grant permanent protection or citizenship to all Afghan people seeking asylum and refugee status currently living in Australia or in immigration detention.
  • Declare a new humanitarian intake of 20,000 Afghan refugees (matching the Canadian commitment just announced).
  • Assist Afghan Australians with urgent family reunion applications for relatives who are in imminent danger.

In addition, a spokesperson for Australian Christian Churches, the network of Pentecostal churches that Scott Morrison’s Horizon Church is a member of, last week said, “The ACC believes we should do everything we can in Australia to help assist those fleeing for their lives in Afghanistan.”

“After twenty years of involvement in Afghanistan, I think we ought to have no hesitation in saying these people are our neighbours” – Kanishka Raffel, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney

This chorus of Christian leaders presents a significant political dilemma for the Australian Prime Minister, who is especially well known for two things: his Christian faith and his leading role in Australia adopting its harshest immigration policies since World War II.

“Scott Morrison is the minister who very proudly stopped the boats for Tony Abbott, he also happens to be a very religious man. Are you trying to appeal to his Christian values by making this appeal?” Lisa Wilkinson asked Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel in an interview on Channel Ten’s The Project last night.

“I have the utmost respect for the integrity of the Prime Minister’s faith,” the Archbishop replied, going on to say that he is sure his faith is brought to bear on his political decisions, just as all politicians’ world views and faith beliefs are.

“We’ve got a long tradition in Australia of welcoming refugees since World War II. Prime Minister Abbott opened the door to 12,000 Syrians five or six years ago,” said Raffel.

The Archbishop’s interview provided him with a primetime mainstream television opportunity to outline the Bible’s teachings on the subject.

“I’m calling on the Australian government to be as compassionate as we can be,” the Archbishop said. “Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ and after twenty years of involvement in Afghanistan, I think we ought to have no hesitation in saying these people are our neighbours.”

Raffel said this was especially true for those Afghans who had worked alongside and assisted Australian Defence Force personnel. Yesterday, an ABC report revealed that the Australian government had denied visas to a group of more than 100 Afghan contractors who guarded the Australian embassy in Kabul, telling them to “contact a migration agent”.

Archbishop Raffel said that Australia went to Afghanistan “to bring freedom to people – that was our goal,” saying, “We now need to bring people here to share our freedom”.

Host Hamish Macdonald challenged the Archbishop’s hopefulness in making the call.

“I know it’s Sunday, but are we at risk of being a bit ‘Kumbaya’ about all of this? This is a government in Australia that’s staked its name on keeping our borders shut, closed, safe – however you want to describe it – we’re at a time when we can’t even get all the Australians who want to come back into the country home. Do you seriously think this government is going to radically change course here?” Macdonald said.

The Archbishop laughed and replied, “Well, Hamish, Christianity is a faith of hope.” He then confirmed he wants to articulate what the Bible teaches about human flourishing and how to treat one another in times of crisis and see Australia aspire to those ideals as much as possible.