Police strip-search priest, mother protesting deportation of babies to Nauru
- #LoveMakesAWay movement holds national day of action in MPs’ offices calling for ALL detained children to be released into the community
- 53 Christian leaders arrested or forcibly removed from MP offices
- Perth leaders – including a female priest and a mother who was praying with her infant – strip-searched before being charged
On Wednesday 10 December 53 Christian leaders were arrested or forcibly removed from the electorate offices of Government MPs across Australia after holding peaceful prayer vigil sit-ins calling on the Government to release detained asylum-seeker children into the community.
Most of those involved in the sit-ins were arrested and released without charge. However, those praying in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s Perth office – including a female priest and a mother who had been praying with her young infant – were arrested, strip-searched, and then charged with trespass.
“While we are disappointed that a group of Christians who had been praying peacefully for 8 hours in the one spot were suddenly being strip-searched for drugs and weapons, this indignity is nothing compared to the horrors faced on a daily basis by the children and families that our nation holds in offshore detention centres,” said Love Makes A Way’s national spokesperson Kate Leaney.
“We appeal to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, as a committed Christian, that he might have a change of heart to release into the Australian community, with their families, the 25 babies born on Australian soil who are at risk of being sent to offshore detention in Nauru, and the 167 children currently in Nauru itself.”
Participants in the Perth sit-in included an Anglican Priest, a Uniting Church Minister, Pentecostal and Churches of Christ Pastors, and lay leaders.
At the Perth Watch House each of the church leaders was refused the opportunity to seek legal advice, stripped naked and searched. The church leaders repeatedly expressed that they did not consent to the search, and repeatedly advised police that they were not in possession of firearms or drugs.
Teresa Lee of West City Church of Christ said: “Even if you strip-search us, even if you make us squat and cough, even if you threaten us, we will not stop fighting for freedom for these precious babies.”
Anglican Priest, the Reverend Lorna Green, said: “I was outraged to be stripped naked to be searched for drugs and firearms, but I’m even more outraged at the way our government is treating helpless babies.”
Yesterday’s sit-ins, which marked Human Rights Day, took place in:
- Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s Sydney office (9 arrests, released without charge).
- Attorney-General George Brandis’s Brisbane office (5 arrests, released without charge)
- Senator Zed Seselja’s Canberra office (5 arrests, released without charge).
- Jamie Briggs’ Adelaide office (5 arrested, formally charged with trespass).
- Josh Frydenberg’s Melbourne office (10 people forcibly removed, released without charge).
- Kelly O’Dwyer’s Melbourne offices (11 people forcibly removed, released without charge).
- Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s office (8 arrests, strip-searched, formally charged with trespass).
Wednesday’s peaceful action of more than 50 church-goers was in response to reports that the Government is planning to send 25 babies — who were born on Australia soil to families seeking safety — to the Nauru detention centre. The Christian leaders come from the full breadth of the Australian church (including Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican and others).
The Christian leaders were committed to remaining in the MPs’ offices until the Government publicly promised that no children will be detained offshore, and that all asylum-seeker children will be released into the Australian community with their families.
Despite seeking dialogue with the MPs and especially Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, the overall response from the Government to the concerns of those participating was silence.
In contrast, the nationwide action received public support on social media from Labor Senator for Western Australia Sue Lines, Federal Labor Member for Fremantle Melissa Parke, the Federal Greens Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt and Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young.
“Despite Mr Morrison’s claim that if his amendments to the Migration Act passed Parliament he would release all children from Australian detention centres, his very first act after the Bill was passed was to move 25 precious babies in preparation for sending them to offshore detention in Nauru,” said Ms Leaney. “This is not only cruel, it is a contradiction of the Immigration Minister’s own words.”
“At Christmas, how can we celebrate the birth of Jesus who quickly became a refugee fleeing persecution and not speak out for these 25 babies whose families have also fled persecution?
“We call on the Government to make a public commitment that no child will be imprisoned offshore. Mr Morrison, these 25 babies born on Australian soil and the 167 children currently in Nauru must be released into the community with their families,” said Ms Leaney.
Preparations to transfer the babies are reportedly underway despite a deal made between Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and Senate crossbenchers that guaranteed children in Australian detention centres would be released. In August, while facing an inquiry into child detention, Mr Morrison said: “Nobody, and especially nobody in this Government, wants to see children in detention if it can be avoided.”
Refugee and health experts, including from the UN, Amnesty International and the Australian Medical Association, have roundly condemned Australia’s detention regime. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce referred to child detention as “state-sanctioned child abuse”.
Australian churches have been united in their opposition to the Government’s asylum-seeker policies, particularly child detention.
Yesterday’s sit-ins are part of the ongoing Christian movement called “Love Makes a Way”. Since the first sit-in at Scott Morrison’s office in March this year, more than 100 Christian leaders have been peacefully arrested (and praised for their conduct by magistrates) as part of #LoveMakesAWay actions calling on the Government to adopt a compassionate approach to asylum-seekers. After yesterday’s actions, that number has dramatically increased, and is likely to increase further until Government policy is changed.