A diverse group of refugee advocates as well as Christian and Muslim representatives has condemned suggestions Australia should give preference to asylum seekers fleeing Syria based on religious grounds.
The group, which includes representatives of both the Catholic and Anglican churches and the Lebanese Muslim Association, has welcomed the Abbott government’s decision to accept 12,000 refugees.
But it says the language out of Canberra, as well as from some religious leaders, is worrying and suggests the Abbott government’s selection criteria will not be genuinely based on need.
The comments come after Liberal frontbencher Scott Morrison indicated on Thursday Australia’s intake of refugees would predominantly be made up of people of Christian faith.
“In Australia we will be taking people who will never be able to go back. That is why we are focusing our intake of that 12,000 on persecuted minorities which are predominantly Middle Eastern Christians,” Mr Morrison said.
Father Bob Bower of the Gosford Anglican Church said a message must be sent to Canberra that “this is not the foundation on which we want to receive these people”.
Earlier in the week, Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher said persecuted Christian refugees should be given priority over other groups fleeing the Syrian conflict.
Jan Barnett, justice coordinator with the Sisters of St Joseph, said it was wrong of Archbishop Fisher to say Christians should be given priority.
“I have a concern about that comment. I believe it was incorrect to make that claim,” she said.
“It was in contradiction to all that the UNHCR conventions speak of.”
Ms Barnett said the Abbott government should follow the advice of the UNHCR about who to resettle.
The group, which includes representatives from the Refugee Action Coalition, the NSW Council of Civil Liberties and the Lebanese Muslim Association, issued a joint statement calling on the government’s response “to be genuine with a humanitarian intention”.
“In light of recent media reports regarding the discriminatory nature of the refugee intake, we are obliged to condemn in the strongest of terms the suggestion that priority should be given to people of one faith over another,” the statement said.