Mainstream Australian churches and Christian organisations have launched a campaign for the “just and compassionate commitment” to resettle 20,000 refugees fleeing from the Taliban in Afghanistan.
In a significant sign of unity, the denominations and organisations have joined together in support of the ‘Christians United for Afghanistan‘ campaign, which is lobbying the Federal Government to increase its humanitarian refugee intake.
Crowds of people show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 26th August. PICTURE: Reuters/Stringer
Sydney Anglicans, the Uniting Church in Australia, Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals and organisations such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Common Grace have signed up in support. The campaign – which is coordinated by Micah Australia – is working closely alongside the refugee services sector including the Refugee Council of Australia.
“This crisis has already shown its power to unite us across theological, political and denominational lines” said Tim Costello, executive director of Micah Australia.
“Together, the Australian Church is calling on our government to make a just and compassionate commitment to help the most vulnerable Afghan people. We want to ensure our nation responds in a way that we can look back on proudly in generations to come.”
The Federal Government announced on 18th August that an initial 3,000 humanitarian places will be allocated to Afghan nationals within Australia’s annual program, which currently provides 13,750 places annually.
The Department of Home Affairs says it anticipates “this initial allocation will increase further over the course of 2021-22”.
“There is no doubt the Bible is not a policy document. It certainly does not stipulate humanitarian policy quotas. However, it is radical in its acceptance of the stranger [refugee] and why God’s heart is particularly set for their plight,” Costello said.
His words were echoed by many joining the campaign, including Melissa Lipsett, acting CEO of Baptist World Aid.
“If we are to take our faith and shared humanity seriously, then one of the most important things we can be doing is speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves,” Lipsett said. “But speaking also needs to be translated into effective and generous actions and that means increasing our humanitarian response and refugee intake.”
President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Sharon Hollis, said the campaign supporters were willing and available to support the government in practical terms for those resettling in Australia.
“It’s not an either or. Primarily, responsibility continues to rest with government and we want them to ensure their departments are set up to back our call with a willingness to take action,” Hollis said. “We are saying our organisations will work alongside the government to provide housing, education and employment opportunities.”
Hollis said at this stage there had been no practical discussion of what resettlement proposals would look like in terms of where and how many Afghan refugees would settle, but discussions would be held with the Afghan community to ensure integration and assistance was provided across Australia.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, called on the Federal Government “to be as compassionate as we can be” in responding to the unfolding crisis in Afghanistan.
“Jesus said, ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and after 20 years in Afghanistan, we should have no hesitation saying they are our neighbours,” he said. “That’s especially true of those who served alongside Australian Defence Force personnel and assisted us in the things we were doing there.”
“We went to Afghanistan to secure the freedom of Afghan people, and now we need to bring as many as we can, as generously as we can, so that they can share our freedom.”
More than 143,000 Australians have already signed a petition by the Afghan Australian Advocacy Network calling for an increase in the number of refugees to 20,000.
The latest campaign acknowledges and supports the #ActionForAfghanistan petition and open letter, coordinated by the AAAN, made up of people from diverse ethnic and religious groups which form the Afghan Australian community.