Christian convert detainees may be allowed to stay
30 of Australia's longest-term immigration detainees are having their cases reviewed and could be freed because they have converted to Christianity since arriving.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the Federal Government has made the move quietly as it searches for a "face-saving way" to soften its policy on failed asylum seekers who have been in custody for more than three years, and cannot be repatriated to their countries of origin.
It follows strong lobbying efforts by several Government backbenchers, churches and the powerful Family First party for the Government to relax its refugee policy for Christian converts.
It also follows the case of one convert, deported from Baxter detention centre last October within a week after the election, and promptly interrogated in Iran for 48 hours before being charged with leaving the country illegally.
The case was taken up by Family First, whose spokeswoman, Andrea Mason, described the action as "repugnant". The Government is keen to build bridges with Family First, which controls one vital vote in the Senate, where the Government has a majority of a single vote.
Previously, the Immigration Department has viewed conversions to Christianity with suspicion. But yesterday a spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, confirmed the only reason for reconsidering the 30 cases was their new religion.
Asked what had changed in the detainees' circumstances to warrant such reconsideration, he said: "Just that they brought new information that they've converted to Christianity and that they want their claim - that they may be persecuted if returned - to be examined."
He said all 30 were "all unauthorised boat arrivals", mostly from Iran and a few from Iraq, who had been in detention for more than three years. They include Peter Qasim, a Kashmiri whom India will not take back, and who is in his seventh year of detention.
The president of the Uniting Church, the Reverend Dean Drayton, has supported the applications of about 50 Iranian Christians, most of whom have converted while in detention.
In the past month, he said, the Government seemed to be "far more open to requests" for the applications to be reconsidered. "I don't think there has been a change of policy but the minister has the power to intervene and provide a reassessment of cases and I think the minister's been doing that."
Detainees who find Christ may be allowed to stay (Sydney Morning Herald 21/3/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Family First: Asylum Seekers
Diocese lobbies local member on behalf of detainee (CathNews 8/3/05)
Uniting Church condemns forced deportation of asylum seekers (Uniting Church National Assembly - Media Release)
New residency rules causing desperation says Justice Commission (catholicireland.net 20/3/05)
Deportation death sentence (sydneyanglicans.net 18/3/05)
21 Mar 2005