Australian Quakers have always taken a strong stand on the rights of refugees to just and humane treatment, whether those human beings are detained on our shores or off-shore in our name.
Quakers and Refugees – A Rich History
Quakers have a long history of standing for refugees and émigrés. And not just standing for them, but backing that up with commitment and action.
Quaker concern for refugees rose first out of their wartime relief work during the first Boer War (1879) and continues to this day. A central principle has always been to give support and care to all sides in a conflict, because we believe that there is that of God in everyone.
Advocacy and care for refugees and émigrés relates to our Testimonies or statements of Faith and Values and in particular, the Testimonies of Equality and Pacifism. Impacts of social and economic inequality and war are underlying causes of displacement of people. We also see a strong relationship between the current refugee crisis and the impact of climate change, which our Statement on Earthcare addresses.
“Refugees are the human face of international injustice…”
Michael Bartlet, a British Quaker, wrote in the Guardian Newspaper:
“Refugees are the human face of international injustice. They are the place – in this country – where we see the real impact of inequality: armed conflict, the inability of failed states to provide a secure home for their citizens, and abusive governments. The impact of climate change adds a further dimension in increasing pressure on land and resources. “
Today Quakers across the world are working to ensure that those displaced by conflict, climate change and injustice have support, care and sanctuary.
That of course includes Australian Quakers who, together with other faith communities and groups, are taking action toward that end.
Australian Quakers Working for Justice for Refugees
There were five Quaker Meeting Houses in Australia in early 2016 that agreed to offer Sanctuary for the 267 asylum seekers who were brought to Australia for medical treatment and were about to be returned to Nauru. These included Canberra, Sydney and Perth.
In 2016, the Clerk of the Canberra Meeting was interviewed by ABC News about setting up the Canberra Regional Meeting House as a place of sanctuary for asylum refugees slated for return to Nauru. (See the interview below.)
Of course, Australian Quakers stand prepared to offer sanctuary to refugees whenever the need arises.
Canberra Quakers to Offer Sanctuary – Canberra Regional Meeting Clerk
Canberra Quakers agreed over the weekend to offer their meeting house as a place of sanctuary for asylum seekers due to be returned to Nauru. Sanctuary is a tradition stemming back to medieval times, in which religious groups would offer their church as place of safety, protection and shelter to those in need.
“What the Government wants to do… goes against everything we stand for”
“We all agreed that we would offer our meeting house as a place of sanctuary … it is not large, and we will offer help to the extent that we are able,” Clerk Kay de Vogel said. “We certainly couldn’t take all the asylum seekers, but we could take some.”
Churches cannot legally provide sanctuary in Australia, however the notion has never been tested. Ms. de Vogel said she was aware of this, but the Quakers had never been afraid to break the law for something they believed in.
“What the Government wants to do in sending these people back just goes against everything we stand for,” she said.
Australian Quakers Working to End Off-Shore Detention
Australian Quakers’ recent media release calls for an end to off-shore detention of refugees and asylum seekers, urging the Government to bring those held on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia for resettlement and healing.
We will continue to press for the just and humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and their resettlement in Australia.