Advocates for children suffering in immigration detention intend to stay until they have a timetabled commitment from the Government for all children and families to be released.
5 Christian leaders are right now holding a prayer sit-in inside current Minister for Social Services and former Minister for Immigration Kevin Andrew’s Melbourne electoral office calling on the Federal Government for the immediate release of all children and families from immigration detention centres.
The group, comprised of church leaders from Pentecostal, Church of Christ and Uniting Church backgrounds entered Kevin Andrew’s office at 11am and say they intend to remain there until they get a timetabled commitment for the release of all children and their families.
The group is making this request of Kevin because he is both a Cabinet member and a vocal public advocate for children’s welfare. In his recent address for National Child Protection Week, Kevin said that “child protection is a unifying issue in a place where we are so often divided. It’s one of those things that should be bigger than the to-and-fro of partisan politics.”
Speaking of the governmental “duty to protect,” he stated, “At the end of the day, the best interests of the child must always be pre-eminent and paramount. There should never be ambiguity on this question.”
However Kevin Andrews has been silent regarding the harmful effects of the detention of asylum seeker children.
“It is clear to us that Mr. Andrews believes children are precious. We invite him as an advocate of child rights and as a person of faith to join us in our campaign and become a public champion for the immediate release of children from onshore and offshore immigration detention,” said Reverend Lucas Taylor, spokesperson for the group.
Kevin recently quoted civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr on the role of the family in society, saying, “the whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding and social peace.”
“We couldn’t agree more with Dr King’s sentiments,” says Lucas. “In fact, it is in the very tradition of Martin Luther King that we are here today.”
Lucas said the group had decided to hold a nonviolent sit-in inside Kevin Andrews’ office because the Government consistently ignored other attempts to seek policy change.
“We’ve tried writing letters to Mr. Andrews, tried to meet with him, and received no response. This is not an issue that can continue to be ignored.”
Another member of the group is Leonnie Wickenden, a former disability nurse who knows first-hand the life-long damage and impact borne upon children when they are deprived of opportunities to freely grow, learn, play and participate in community.
“My faith determines that we owe children immediate freedom from detention so they can thrive in all aspects of their development, away from the bars of hopelessness and despair,” she says.
In addition to the group inside the office there are a number of supporters on the street, holding banners, singing and praying. Leading the songs is Luke Champion, a local music teacher and member of the New Community Church in Ringwood.
“I think what’s happening here today is great. We’re sending the government a strong message that holding these kids in detention is unacceptable.”
Last week, Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, Claudio Grossmann raised concerns about Australia’s immigration policies as the committee begins to assess Australia’s record as a signatory to its anti-torture convention.
“We’ve always said that children do not belong in detention centres.” he said.
This follows a series of prayer-centred sit-in actions in MP’s offices that has sparked a nationwide Christian movement called Love Makes A Way which has seen almost 100 Christian leaders arrested. Love Makes a Way is a national movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action.
There are currently 726 children in Australian immigration detention (Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary. 31st October 2014).
Those involved today include:
- Reverend Lucas Taylor, Local Church Minister
- Reverend Brendan Byrne, Church Minister
- Emily Wood, youth work student
- Leonnie Wickenden, former disability nurse
- Abigail Benham-Bannon, student