Australia’s Catholic bishops have called for a special welcome for 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 in more refugees from Afghanistan because of support for Australian military forces.
“The situation in Afghanistan requires a special contribution of at least 20,000 additional places,” the statement said.
“We have a moral duty to those who have supported the Australian military forces as performers or in other capacities.”
The statement also calls for a special welcome for Ukrainian refugees, saying they need “similar mercy”.
“Refugees and asylum seekers fleeing persecution, violence or life-threatening poverty, as well as those displaced by climate change, are our sisters and brothers.
The bishops have called for a broader reassessment of refugee policies, saying people fleeing violence or persecution have a “moral claim on our help, whether or not they meet the legal definitions of a refugee.”
“We need a fair, humane and timely system to assess asylum claims.”
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies backed the call for special admission, with its CEO Darren Bark and Australian Jewry Executive Council co-CEO Peter Wertheim saying they were “wholeheartedly in agreement.” “.
“We commend the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference for their powerful statement that ‘we are one human family’, and wholeheartedly agree that anyone fleeing persecution and physical danger deserves immediate assistance.”
The Australian National Council of Imams has backed the call for more asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
Spokesman Ibrahim Dadoun told the Guardian the council had agreed Australia had a “moral duty” to Afghan asylum seekers.
“In return, the Australian government should not only provide more spaces for refugees, but also support Afghans through humanitarian or medical assistance.”
Dadoun said the council of imams also supports a broader increase in the humanitarian welcome program.
“Australia is a very big nation, and I’m sure we can easily absorb more asylum seekers very quickly. Just as we have seen in Europe, where many countries have absorbed the massive influx of Ukrainian refugees, we can also do the same. It’s not exaggerated. »
The Morrison government has increased its humanitarian bed allocation for Afghan nationals to 16,500 over the next four years.
The announcement was made as part of the federal budget in March, with officials confirming that admission exceeded the “ceiling” of 13,750 for the annual humanitarian program.
At the time, 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 for Afghan nationals had increased to 31,500 over the next four years, which also included the 10,000 places already promised under the existing humanitarian program and the 5,000 places previously announced. in permanent flux, as for family members.
But the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference insists that a special contribution is a necessary reflection of Australia’s investment in Afghanistan.
The election statement also calls for religious freedom laws that would give faith groups the freedom to run schools, social services, hospitals and aged care facilities “on the basis of their faith-inspired mission.” .
“It is essential to the well-being of our society that Australians of all faiths, or none, have the religious freedom to practice their beliefs,” he says.
It comes after Scott Morrison stopped recommitting to the Religious Discrimination Bill last week, after the government shelved the bill in February.
The bishops are calling for “common sense protections” for religious groups that would not “prioritize the rights of believers in Australia above the rights of other Australians”.
“We are only asking for the same level of protection against discrimination based on religion that Australia already has on the basis of race, gender or age.”
Among a host of other issues, the bishops are also calling for increased payments for job seekers, an endorsement of the Heart of Uluru Declaration and increased wages for older workers.
The statement does not endorse any party, with the group’s chairman, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, saying neither party embodied “Catholic social teaching”.
“The bishops, however, offer an election statement to encourage Catholics and people of good will to reflect on the good they can do for their community by using their vote for the good of all,” he said.