Uniting Church calls for huge boost to humanitarian refugee intake

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) has urged a more welcoming approach to refugees, calling for an increase in the annual refugee intake to 60,000 by the end of the decade.

The call is part of the church’s election manifesto, published online, which invites consideration of policies “through the lens of our faith and the gospel values which compel us all to be engaged in God’s mission in the world.”

“As one of the wealthiest, most secure and stable countries in the world, Australia can welcome far more refugees than we do,” says the document entitled A Flourishing Society: Your Faith, Your Voice, Your Vote.

“The Uniting Church in Australia believes that we should increase our humanitarian intake to 25,000 for 2016-17 and to at least 60,000 by 2020.”

Meanwhile, World Vision CEO Tim Costello said yesterday that keeping asylum-seekers on Manus Island and Nauru was psychological torture.

“There’s no question that the psychological torture of not being able to actually resettle, and you can’t go back home, is torture,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

Costello said the Somalian woman who set herself on fire on Nauru showed the desperation the federal government’s refugee policy was driving people to.

“World Vision works in Somalia and 98 per cent of women suffer female genital mutilation. Somalia is a terrifying place,” he said.

World Vision CEO Tim Costello

World Vision CEO Tim Costello

“You would flee that, I would flee that.”

In the United Church’s election toolkit, Australia’s third largest Christian denomination urged its one million members across 2500 congregations to lobby their local candidates to end policies including “the interception and turning back of boats”.

It also called for a restoration of Australia’s foreign aid budget in line with our international commitments; the setting up of a regional protection solution for refugees; and setting a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

The church’s refugee proposal exceeds the Greens’ proposal to raise the humanitarian intake to 50,000, which the government said would cost $7 billion across four years.

In the election toolkit, UCA comments that fewer than 200 of the 12,000 Syrian refugees Australia had promised to take had arrived by the end of April.

“In the same period, Canada has resettled more than 26,000 refugees from that region,” it says.

It points out that there are still about 30,000 people in the community waiting for their protection claims to be processed.

“Some have been waiting on bridging visas, which is incredibly damaging to their health and wellbeing.”

Costello compared the Turnbull government’s offshore detention policy with the Howard government’s Pacific Solution, which meant there was no “indefinite torture” on Nauru or Manus Island.

“It did stop the boats and quietly allowed all those who were found to be refugees – and it was 85 to 90 per cent – to be resettled back in Australia.”

He said Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s comments about refugees being “illiterate” and taking Australian jobs were made because they resonated with some voters.

“The toxic [refugee] debate has leeched out something of the Australian soul,” Costello said.

Boosting Australia’s aid budget was crucial to solving the world’s refugee crisis, he said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has vowed to make regional resettlement a priority if he becomes prime minister after the July 2 election.

“The best answer is to defeat the people-smugglers and make sure that the people in our care, directly or indirectly, get proper resettlement,” he told reporters in the inner-west Sydney seat of Reid

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he didn’t accept Costello’s claim.

“It is absolutely critical that we maintain a secure border protection policy,” he told reporters in his eastern-Sydney electorate.

“That is why it is absolutely critical that people who seek to come to Australia through the services of people-smugglers are not able to settle in Australia.”