Agencies unite to offer refugee safety net

Turnbull government removal of support stirs action by church taskforce

The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Peter Catt, has called on Australians to support a network of agencies which say they will help refugees whose income support and accommodation have been removed by the Turnbull government.

Launching an appeal as Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), Catt urged Australians to donate to a network of about 20 organisations, which includes the Red Cross and Anglicare SA, to ensure people transferred from Nauru or Manus Island do not go hungry or have to return to places of harm.

“They will step in where people have been abandoned by the government, so that people don’t end up on the street and hungry,” Catt told Eternity.

“We call on the government to reverse its latest attempt to return these people.” – Peter Catt

He believed accommodation would be part of the services provided by the agencies, but he was not sure of the details. Catt said the people at risk were the same group who were offered “sanctuary” last year by churches, schools and hospitals in most states and territories. The ACRT soon would contact churches that offered sanctuary.

“The sanctuary offer is still on the table should the government make moves to forcibly remove these people,” Catt said.

“Our offer of sanctuary precipitated a huge outpouring of support, as the community recognised that the government was preparing to send people, including children, to places of harm.

“We were very encouraged by this and call on the government to reverse its latest attempt to return these people, including children, to places of harm, such as Manus and Nauru, by starving them into it.”

“We will not stand by and allow them to be made destitute…” – Peter Catt

The ACRT estimates the government’s changes will affect 370 people, including more than 116 children and 50 babies born in Australia. They are largely Iranians, Syrians, Afghans from a minority background, Burmese Rohingya, and Sri Lankan Tamils. They had all been detained on Manus and Nauru, after arriving by boat from 19 July, 2013.

All were brought to Australia from Nauru and Manus Island for medical care, some as the result of attacks; more than 20 women are survivors of sexual assault or rape. Many were party to an unsuccessful High Court challenge to Australia’s offshore processing regime in Nauru.

After the High Court loss, the #LetThemStay campaign was launched to pressure the government not to return the group to Manus Island and Nauru. The government subsequently moved the vast majority of this group into the Australian community. They have been barred from working, but have received accommodation, children have been able to go to school, and they have received a reduced Special Benefit (about $200 per fortnight) for food, clothing and other essentials.

“We will not stand by and allow them to be made destitute and forced back to danger on Nauru. When this government is cruel, the community will be kind,” Catt said.

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