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Uniting Church defends African refugees

Queensland Moderator Rev Dr David Pitman
The Uniting Church in Queensland has moved to defend the dignity and good name of Queensland’s North African Community from attacks by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.

“The government’s decision to single out the African community in this way is deeply troubling,” according to Queensland Moderator Rev Dr David Pitman.

“Mr. Andrews has singled out the Sudanese and slurred that entire group within our community on the basis of problems common to many Australians of all backgrounds.”

In Queensland, the Uniting Church has welcomed and assisted hundreds of North Africans in recent years.

In Africa, the church’s aid partners have witnessed first hand the turmoil from which these families have come.

“The Australian government’s has acknowledged the suffering and civil unrest in that region, and the years refugees spend in camps, yet the Immigration Minister has decided to reduce the number of refugees from Africa.”

Dr Pitman pointed out that antisocial behaviour by a small minority of young men is hardly unique to the Sudanese community.

“As an election looms, it seems the Howard government has chosen an obvious and easy target, ignoring all manner of other gangs formed by young men from particular communities throughout our country.

“If African immigrants are having difficulty settling into the Australian community, the Immigration Minister’s job is to ask, “Why?”, and seek the answers to that question,” Dr Pitman said.

Rev Ian Lord of Brisbane’s Bayside Uniting Church said, “These are citizens who have done everything Australia asked of them.

“They have waited patiently, in often dreadful circumstances, while their applications were processed. They are not ‘queue jumpers’.

“I am disgusted by this decision.”

Mr Lord has attended citizenship ceremonies with local Sudanese families during the past five years and said there are no prouder new citizens.

“However, this group probably face a greater cultural shift than any other migrant or refugee group.

“They come from an environment such as Dafour to the suburbs of Brisbane with little experience of a commercial and structured society after years in camps.”

“Among the Sudanese workers at the local abattoir and the Port of Brisbane are former lawyers, accountants and police officers.

“Their reputation with service providers such as real estate agents in our area is exemplarily,” Mr Lord said.

At St. David’s Uniting Church in Coopers Plains, there are more than 100 Sudanese, including young men the church has helped to bring to Australia.

Rev Ivan Kirk told the story of three young men who took five months to walk from Sudan to the United Nations camp in Nairobi, where they waited for seven years until the Australian High Commission gave permission for the trio to resettle at their own expense.

“Our church helped pay their airfares,” said Mr Kirk.

“They arrived in January and one of these fellows is already at the University of Queensland studying accounting.”

Dr Pitman said, as with every other group of migrants that have come from the conflict zones of Europe and Asia last century, integration has not been simple.

“It has been of great benefit to Australia, shaping who we are in the 21st Century.”

Photo : Queensland Moderator Rev Dr David Pitman