Australian Churches Start ‘Sanctuary Training’ to Shelter Refugees

Support for asylum seekers

Australian churches on Sunday started “sanctuary training” with lessons to believers on how to resist attempts by Australian government officials including border police if they try to remove the asylum seekers forcibly.

The training classes held in capital cities were led by the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) and backed by GetUp.

Many churches have taken the pledge to enforce the Old Testament concept of a sanctuary and defend 267 asylum seekers in Australia.  The refugee group includes elderly women and more than 50 children, in which 37 are babies. They are facing forcible removal to offshore detention centres on Nauru or Manus Island, reports The Guardian.

The CEO of Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), Misha Coleman, said, “we’ll be giving people who expressed a wish the opportunity to learn how to peacefully resist any efforts to forcibly deport asylum seekers back to Nauru and Manus Island.”

The sanctuary movement is backed by 115 volunteer churches.

“It’s a very ancient Christian tradition around providing protection from the terrors of the state, where the state has policies that are intolerable,” Coleman said.

The training sessions include instructional role playing and advice on what to do if the Australian Border Force attempts to remove people.

“We hope the government will see mums and dads, not activists – not rent-a-crowds as they always call groups who protest – but just church-going Christians, normal people from the suburbs, who are prepared, probably for the first time in their lives to be civilly disobedient,” Coleman said.

Shen Narayanasamy, Human Rights Director of GetUp said the goal of the sanctuary training was to stop vulnerable people from being thrown out to “abusive detention camps.”

The ACRT also lobbied with the minister for immigration, Peter Dutton to allow the asylum seekers  to stay in Australia. Many states and territory leaders have offered to house them.

Meanwhile, North Sydney’s Sisters of St Joseph also joined the training and offered to harbour asylum seekers if the Turnbull government tried to push them into Nauru or Manus Island.

The Catholic nuns offered sanctuary and other aid at the risk of raids and criminal cases by police, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.

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