Hundreds of people have taken part in training sessions across the country to help protect asylum seekers looking for 'sanctuary' in churches in defiance of the federal government’s attempt to deport 267 asylum seekers to offshore detention.
Around 115 churches including Uniting Anglican and Salvation Army have pledged to open their doors to asylum seekers, including children, facing deportation to Nauru.
At Sunday’s training session at Mary MacKillop’s Place in North Sydney, participants were given legal advice and practical skills should Border Force officers attempt to remove asylum seekers.
Sister Jan Barnett, Social Justice Coordinator for the Sisters of St Joseph, said so many people wanted to be involved because they are frustrated by the government’s treatment of asylum seekers.
“There is a difference between the law and what is moral and I do believe it’s not a moral decision for us to be sending people to Nauru without hope for the future," she said.
The sanctuary movement began in February as part of the 'Let Them Stay' campaign after the High Court ruled the federal government’s offshore detention process and processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island is lawful.
Shen Narayanasamy, GetUp Human Rights Campaign Director, said: "People of conscience are saying enough, and the churches are saying enough and they are prepared to take a strong and unprecedented stance."
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce Executive Officer Misha Coleman said: "We have been overwhelmed by the numbers of parish and churches to be part of this national sanctuary church movement."
Australian churches offered sanctuary in the 1990s to East Timorese refugees who faced deportation from Australia after fleeing violence by Indonesian occupying forces and supporters.
But the Christian concept is yet to be legally tested so church officials offering sanctuary to asylum seekers in Australia could face criminal charges.
Sister Barnett said she is prepared to take the risk.
"If that means going to court, if that means going to jail then yes I am prepared to do that,” she said.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton didn't comment today but has previously stated the government expected churches to abide by the law.