Advocates for children suffering in detention have been arrested after sitting in the office of MP Kevin Andrews to request the release of all children and families from immigration detention.
Five church leaders have been arrested after a prayer sit-in in at Cabinet Minister for Social Services Kevin Andrews’ electorate office. The group were requesting a timetabled commitment for the release of all children and families from immigration detention centres. They asked that Kevin Andrews become a public champion for the immediate release of children and families. Despite an invitation to respond to their message, Kevin chose to remain silent and decided to arrest the church leaders and close his office early today at 3pm.
Those arrested included local clergy and Christians from different denominations. One of those arrested, former disability nurse Leonnie Wickenden had this to say about her participation in today’s action: “I’m here today because the evidence of over 15 years of bipartisan asylum seeker policies, show us that vulnerable children continue to be put at immeasurable and unacceptable risk of life-long developmental disruption. Having over 20 years of service to people with disability, 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.”
The group made this request of Kevin Andrews 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, “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.” S
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 had 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 Andrews 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’s 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.”
This follows a series of prayer-centered 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.
The participants in today’s prayer vigil represent the many members of a growing nationwide grassroots movement that is rapidly building momentum, with scores of Christians across Australia expressing interest in getting involved in future prayer vigils.
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
Follow Love Makes a Way on social media:
Hashtag for all social media: #LoveMakesAWay