For those who’ve asked – here’s what I said about #letthemstay in Church this morning. The public meeting is 6pm – 7:30pm, Town Hall Square.
Tomorrow at 6pm at Town Hall square, people from all over Sydney will be gathering to call on the Australian government not to send the more than 80 babies and children of asylum seekers currently in Australia, or their families, back to Nauru. There are similar gatherings in every capital city in Australia. Sureka, the kids and I are going to be there, and I’d like to take a moment to tell you why.
There is a wide range of opinions about how we can best respond to the world wide crisis of asylum seekers. The questions around how they come, where and why they come, and how many can be settled are complicated, and I know that people of good will can honestly differ in good faith.
But the campaign against the detention of children is not about that.
This is about how we as a nation, treat innocent children. Children who are in our country’s care while their family’s claims for asylum are being assessed. Children, in many cases, born here.
I know we could be critical of parents for putting their children into this situation. But that’s not the issue at hand. The question for us is how we, as Australians, respond. We are responsible for our actions and our decisions, and the effect they have. And I simply cannot stand by in silence while my country sends children to detention on Nauru.
I cannot remain silent when a five year old boy, having received medical treatment needed because he was raped, is sent back to the custody of the same guards who are accused of raping him.
I cannot remain silent when a seven year old girl attempts suicide by cutting her face and chest with razor blades, when young children jump from buildings in an attempt to kill themselves; it is not ok to send more children into the very situation that has created such despair, whatever crime we may think their parents may have committed.
It is never ethically acceptable to deliberately cause harm to the innocent – these children – in order to punish or deter those that we hold to be guilty.
Last year 15 peak health professional bodies issued a joint statement opposing the detention of children because of “the devastating impact of detention on the health and wellbeing of children”. The Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Royal Australian & NZ College of Psychiatrists, the Australian College of Nursing, Westmead Children’s Hospital, The Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital, the Australian College of Children and Young People’s Nurses, the Australian Psychological Society – all of those and others – professional medical bodies with first-hand experience of Nauru, have called for this to stop. I have copies of that statement in full for anyone who is interested.
I say again – to deliberately hurt children in order to punish their parents is simply not acceptable, whatever crime you believe that those parents may have committed. And knowing what we know, what all the expert bodies agree, about Nauru and Manus, there can be no doubt that choosing to send these children back is choosing to deliberately cause them harm.
Possibly the harshest words spoken by Jesus in the gospels were reserved for those who put children into harm’s way. Millstones and oceans.
This is why Churches across Australia – Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Uniting and others – have this week declared that they will offer sanctuary to children and families at risk of being returned to Nauru. Church leaders of all denominations have made it clear that as an act of civil disobedience, they will refuse to hand over any families who seek their protection, accepting that they could be charged and imprisoned as a result.
And I have never been prouder to be part of the Church than I am today.
Tomorrow we will be joining with thousands of other Australians calling on the Government not to let it come to that, not to send these families back to Nauru but to allow them to live in the Australian community while their claims for asylum are assessed.
I invite you to join us. 6pm. Town Hall Square.