Australia: Leaders Press for Refugee Asylum

Christians demand Australian government show compassion
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Christian leaders are demanding that the government reverse its decision to reject asylum for at-risk refugees.

James Haire, vice president of the Australian National Council of Churches, led a delegation representing 90 percent of Australia's Christians to the nation's capital on August 30. The delegation urged Prime Minister John Howard and the government to show more compassion toward refugees. "We've come to Canberra to show the values that we are famous for," Haire said.

This summer, more than 430 mostly Afghan refugees on the cramped and crippled Norwegian ferry, the MV Tampa, entered the territorial waters of Christmas Island, an Australian territory smaller than Washington, D.C., off the coast of the Indonesian island of Java.

Last summer, Pakistan began sending recent Afghan arrivals at its refugee camps back to their country, claiming they did not deserve refugee status. Fearing persecution, violence, or economic deprivation, some have made a desperate attempt to find safety in Australia.

The government, however, refused them asylum and transferred the refugees to an Australian aircraft carrier. Government officials then successfully appealed a Melbourne federal court decision that ruled their actions illegal. Meanwhile, the government has lobbied the island nation of Nauru, which has a Protestant majority, to accept 300 refugees in exchange for $20 million in economic assistance.

Australia, with a population of 18 million, takes in 12,000 legal refugees each year, second per-capita only to Canada. More than 4,500 asylum seekers have received three-year temporary protection visas in Australia this year, significantly more than the 2,939 evaluated in 2000.

Many Christian leaders support the government's determination ...

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