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Background to Refugees Issue at 12th General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia

Posted on: July 12, 2001 2:30 PM
Related Categories: Australia

10th July 2001

The churches of Australia have a history of welcoming refugees to Australia particularly since the 1930's when Jewish organisations began settling people who had escaped from Nazi Germany.

Immediately after the Second World War, Australia accepted more than 20,000 refugees from Europe. At this time the government looked to mainstream welfare groups, particularly those attached to the church, to help in this work. In the 1970's growing numbers of refugees from Africa and Asia came to settle in Australia.

Settlement experts agree that the churches' continuing role has been crucial in the settlement of refugees. Churches are able to offer multi-faceted support including lobbying the Government on behalf of the persecuted, mobilising widespread networks to lend personal and financial support and helping refugees connect with wider welfare networks already established by the various denominations over the past two centuries.

Continuing in the same vein as its history of care and hospitality for the vulnerable and underprivileged Archbishop Ian George AO, will call on the Anglican Church of Australia at its General Synod in Brisbane in July 2001, to register its grave concern about the plight of asylum-seekers in Australia.

Archbishop George is the Archbishop of Adelaide and also the convener of the Anglican Communion Refugee and Migrant Network. This network was re-established by Archbishop George after the last Lambeth Conference at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It aims to be a forum for the exchange of information, ideas and encouragement to Anglicans around the world who are supporting refugees and advocating for their better treatment.

"The plight of some 30 million refugees and perhaps 40 million displaced persons (within their own countries of origin) has been described as the biggest moral problem facing the international community today," Archbishop George argues. "Most Anglicans in the world seem blissfully unaware of these problems. The educational task is massive but the development of mutual concern is vital."

Archbishop George will also be calling on the Federal Government to conduct an urgent review of the plight of temporary protection visa (TPV) holders and the support mechanisms available to them in the Australian community.

The TPV was introduced with bipartisan support in 1999 as a means to deter people from coming to Australia unlawfully to seek asylum. Refugees who arrive in Australia through existing humanitarian programs receive a permanent visa which entitles them to a full range of social security benefits, English language training, family reunion rights and automatic eligibility for Medicare.

On the other hand, TPVs are issued if people, who have come to Australia by their own means, are determined as refugees by the Department of Immigration or the Refugee Review Tribunal. They have access only to special social security benefits where a range of eligibility criteria applies. There is no clarity regarding their English language training entitlements, no family reunion rights and eligibility for Medicare is subject to their lodgment of an application for a permanent visa. After three years on the TPV, their case is reviewed and they are either issued with a permanent visa or deported.

The introduction of a 'second class' refugee through the TPV regime has upset the previously healthy partnership between the Government and church based welfare agencies in the care and resettlement of refugees. Many agencies rely on Government funding in their pursuits but they are bound by their contract, preventing them from reaching out to TPV holders who are among the most vulnerable in our society.

Despite these difficulties there are a number of church agencies which run programs for TPV holders. For example:

  • House of Welcome: This is a joint project of St Stephen's Villawood and the NSW Ecumenical Council. The aim of this program is to obtain a house near the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney to provide emergency housing for individuals and families released from the Centre who have no contacts in the Sydney community.
  • CARAD: The Coalition Assisting Refugees After Detention is a Western Australian initiative formed in 2000 to provide settlement services and pastoral care for TPV holders.
  • ARMM: Anglicare Refugee and Migrant Ministry in Brisbane aims to help refugees in the resettlement process by providing educative services such as English language training and internet access for both refugees with permanent visas and temporary visas. It also operates community refugee resettlement programs throughout south-east Queensland.

Archbishop George will also be calling for:

  • the Anglican church to provide chaplaincy and pastoral care to residents in Detention Centres around Australia;
  • the provision of separate and appropriate living quarters for women and children detainees;
  • the establishment of a General Synod working group;
  • and for Anglican churches in Australia to observe the last Sunday in August as Refugee Sunday.

The Minister of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, will also be speaking at General Synod, subject to his availability on the day.