The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan has condemned cuts to Federal Government support for a group of asylum seekers living in the Australian community.
The $200-a-fortnight welfare payment has ceased effective from Monday 28 August and the Immigration department has given asylum seekers three weeks to move out of government-supported accommodation.
The welfare changes may eventually affect 400 asylum seekers who were transferred to Australia from offshore detention for medical reasons. They will now be placed on a new category ‘Final Departure Bridging E’ visa.
They will also be expected to leave Australia or return to offshore detention after six months.
A third of those affected are children. More than 20 are women who are survivors of sexual assault or rape.
“This is such a cruel way to treat vulnerable people,” said President McMillan.
“Has the Australian Government lost its moral compass entirely? This is totally unacceptable. Our Government should act with compassion and let these people stay.”
The Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director, Hugh de Krester, told SBS that up until now these asylum seekers have been prevented from working.
“And now, completely out of the blue, with no notice whatsoever, they’ve been told tomorrow, you have no income we’re taking all of your income away and in three weeks’ time we’re taking your homes away,” said Mr. de Krester.
The Uniting Church in Australia since its inception has advocated for humanitarian treatment of people fleeing violence and persecution in their homeland.
The Church’s 2015 statement Shelter from the Storm calls for a compassionate response to asylum seekers who should not be subjected to harsh and punitive policies.
Mr McMillan and every Uniting Church Moderator wrote to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on 21 August to urge him to deal more humanely with asylum seekers and refugees, including those being held in offshore detention.
“Mr Dutton’s actions show he clearly places no value on what Uniting Church leaders think. For the sake of these vulnerable people I’d urge his Government colleagues including the Prime Minister to intervene and ensure a compassionate response,” said Mr McMillan.