House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016


Petition: Syrian Christian Refugees

9:19 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

Whilst mankind continues to make tremendous progress and achieves scientific breakthroughs that we never thought were possible, it seems extraordinary that we live in a world that is as barbaric today as it was in every area that has preceded us. It seems that science and humanity do not advance together. Nor is the brutality restricted to one particular global region or race. I have spoken previously in this place about the Armenian genocide, the Bosnian genocide and the persecution of the Baha'i people. Hardly a day passes when there is not another news report of a mass killing of innocent people or acts of violence and brutality perpetrated against minority groups. Suicide bombings, random shootings and even the targeted military bombings of hospitals and other civilian buildings have become a common occurrence in the world today.

A notable but very concerning trend in recent years has been the persecution of Christians in non-Christian countries. I note the motion from the member for McMahon and his contribution today on the Assyrian people and their struggles and the destruction of their holy sites. Christians appear to be the most persecuted people on earth. The International Society for Human Rights, a secular NGO based in Frankfurt, estimated that Christians are the victims of 80 per cent of all religious discrimination in the world. The US based Pew Research Centre in a 2014 report also found that between June 2006 and December 2012 Christians faced harassment and intimidation in 151 countries—more than any other religious group. Yet, ironically, it is Christian countries that are the most accepting of non-Christians and that allow freedom of religion within their own countries.

The Middle East has in recent times become increasingly unsafe for Christian families. Many have already fled their homes and now find themselves homeless. They form part of the estimated 50 million people worldwide who are considered to be displaced or the 15 million who are considered to be refugees. The actual figures of how many Christians are now refugees or displaced are sketchy, because in many of the regions Christians are fleeing from identifying themselves as Christians brings additional risks. Nor are the Christians safe in refugee camps, where they continue to be persecuted by non-Christian refugees. It is claimed that Christian refugees will no longer seek shelter in refugee camps because of the ongoing risks they face within them. That in turn makes it more difficult to collate information about them or their whereabouts, to provide them with assistance or to seek them out for the purpose of offering them refuge in another country.

Their plea for help is often channelled to the outside world through Christian connections they have made in other countries. In turn, the people whom they contact and who are willing to help them are unable to do so without government intervention. One organisation that is endeavouring to assist persecuted Christians with relocation to a safe country is the Barnabas Fund Australia Ltd.

I am told that Barnabas Fund supporters have offered to sponsor Christian refugees and help them with accommodation, shelter and resettlement in Australia. Their most difficult challenge is getting refugees into Australia, and for that they seek government intervention. Barnarbas Fund have drawn up a petition calling on this House:

1. To work with governments in the Middle East to provide and support secure areas for displaced Christian communities that have fled from violence and persecution.

2. To increase the humanitarian intake, especially for the displaced vulnerable minorities (Christians) from the Middle East.

3. To consider granting humanitarian visas for Internally Displaced People from Iraq and Syria who will never be able to return/resettle in their own villages.

4. To allow Churches and faith based communities to sponsor/ propose vulnerable families for humanitarian visas in order to be resettled in Regional Australia.

The petitioners are grateful for the government's intent to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees in Australia. They are, however, pleading with the government to increase the refugee intake and allow an increased number of Christian refugees to come here. They also ask for the government to ensure that the refugee intake process does not unintentionally exclude Christian refugees who are in hiding and have not sought refuge in UNHCR recognised refugee camps or are not listed or nominated by the UNHCR. This is a humanitarian issue that democratic countries that subscribe to and uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights cannot and should not ignore. It is about helping vulnerable people who have been persecuted, tortured or killed and who have no-one else left to turn to. By leave—I present all seven volumes of the Barnabas Fund petition signed by 6,698 people and I ask for it to be referred to the Petitions Committee for consideration.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This document will now be referred to the Standing Committee on Petitions for consideration.