On 18 October this year the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, announced that unaccompanied children and vulnerable families in immigration detention would be released into community detention.
Some will be released as early as Christmas, with the majority being placed by June next year.Â He committed the Government to working with churches and community service agencies to source housing and provide appropriate support services.
The Uniting Church in Australia has for many years been calling for an end to the prolonged mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
Through the faithful ministry of so many Uniting Church members and chaplains who visit people in detention, we have witnessed first hand the damaging effects of immigration detention on already traumatised people who have done nothing more than exercise their right under international law to seek safety from persecution.
Responding to the announcement, the President of the Assembly, Rev Alistair Macrae, said in a press release:
â€œTodayâ€™s announcement will provide a great relief for parents who will regain the right to raise their children in a safe and suitable environment. It will also go some way to rebuilding our international reputation as a decent and hospitable country.
â€œThe Uniting Church will do all it can to support the Governmentâ€™s plan to house minors and children with families in the community. We will also continue to work for improvements to the reception and processing systems for people who come to Australiaâ€™s shores seeking our protection.â€
Since the announcement, UnitingCare Australia and the Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project (Melbourne), supported by UnitingJustice Australia (on behalf of the Assembly), have been working with the Government and with other major church agencies and the Red Cross to find accommodation and ensure appropriate services are in place.
Mr Macrae and Rev Elenie Poulos (UnitingJustice Australia) met with Minister for Immigration on 17 November to discuss the Churchâ€™s support for the release program.
The National Director of UnitingCare Australia, Lin Hatfield Dodds, Caz Coleman, director of Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project (and a member of the Ministerâ€™s Advisory Council) and representatives from other church-based agencies are working closely with the Department of Immigration to develop the program.
The Uniting Church and its agencies are committed to ensuring that the highest standard of care is provided for unaccompanied children and vulnerable families and to continuing to advocate for justice and compassion for all who seek our care and protection.