Australia has ‘moral duty’ to take 20,000 more Afghan refugees, Catholic bishops say

The Guardian

19 April 2022

Election statement also calls for a special intake of Ukrainians and a wider reassessment of refugee policies

Australia’s Catholic bishops have called for a special intake of 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan, saying the country has a “moral duty” to do more.

As part of its election statement, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the country had an obligation to take more refugees from Afghanistan because of the support shown to Australian military forces.

“The situation in Afghanistan demands a special intake of at least 20,000 additional places,” the statement says.

“We have a moral duty towards those who supported Australian military forces as interpreters or in other capacities.”

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The statement also calls for a special intake of Ukrainian refugees, saying they require “similar mercy”.

“Refugees and asylum-seekers fleeing persecution, violence or life-threatening poverty, and people who have been displaced by climate change, are our sisters and brothers.”

The bishops called for a wider reassessment of refugee policies, saying the people fleeing violence or persecution have a “moral claim on our assistance, whether they fit legal definitions of a refugee or not”.

“We need a just, humane and timely system for assessing claims for asylum.”

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies backed the call for a special intake, with its CEO, Darren Bark, and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO, Peter Wertheim, saying they “wholeheartedly agree”.

“We commend the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for its powerful statement that ‘we are one human family’, and wholeheartedly agree that anyone fleeing persecution and physical danger deserves immediate assistance.”

The Australian National Imams Council has backed the call for a greater intake of asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

Spokesperson Ibrahim Dadoun told the Guardian the council agreed that Australia had a “moral duty” towards Afghan asylum seekers.

“In return, the Australian government should not only provide more spaces for refugees, but to also support Afghans through humanitarian or medical aid.”

Dadoun said the imams council also supported a broader increase in the humanitarian intake program.

“Australia is a very large nation, and I’m sure we can easily absorb more asylum seekers very quickly. Just as we saw in Europe, where many countries absorbed the large influx of Ukrainian refugees, we can also do the same. It’s not far-fetched.”

The Morrison government has increased its allocation of humanitarian places for Afghan nationals to 16,500 over the next four years.

The announcement came as part of the federal budget in March, with officials confirming the intake was on top of the 13,750 “ceiling” for the annual humanitarian program.

At the time, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said the move was in “recognition” of Australia’s two decades of operations in Afghanistan.

Hawke said the total number of places available to Afghan nationals had increased to 31,500 over the next four years, which also included the 10,000 places already pledged within the existing humanitarian program, and the 5,000 previously announced places in the permanent stream, such as for family members.

But the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference insists a special intake is a necessary reflection of Australia’s investment in Afghanistan.

The election statement also calls for religious freedom laws that would allow faith groups the freedom to run schools, social welfare, hospitals and aged care facilities “on the basis of their faith-inspired mission”.

“It is essential for the wellbeing of our society for Australians of all ­religious faiths, or none, to have the religious freedom to practise their beliefs,” it says.

It comes after Scott Morrison stopped short of recommitting to the religious discrimination bill last week, after the government shelved the bill in February.

“We call only for the same level of protections against discrimination on the basis of religion that Australia already has on the basis of race, sex or age.”

Among a host of other issues, the bishops also call for a rise in jobseeker payments, an endorsement of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and a wage rise for aged care workers.

The statement does not throw its support behind any party, with group president, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, saying none of the parties embodied “Catholic social teaching”.

“The bishops are, however, ­offering an election statement to encourage Catholics and people of goodwill to reflect on the good they can do for their community by using their vote for the good of all,” he said.

Australia has ‘moral duty’ to take 20,000 more Afghan refugees, Catholic bishops say