Ballarat churches support housing asylum seekers

BALLARAT churches have embraced the idea of housing asylum seekers, amid news that detention centres are reaching capacity.Anglican and Catholic representatives have expressed their support for accommodating immigrants, provided the churches have the necessary facilities.Bishop Michael Hough of the Anglican Diocese of Ballarat said it was an "excellent proposal"."This is the kind of ministry that should be undertaken by the church and if any of our buildings were suitable for use then we would do what we could to support the initiative," Bishop Hough said."The plight of all refugees should be a matter that occupies the hearts, prayers and resources of all Christians." The Bishop said although the diocese had limited resources, the idea would be seriously considered."This is a priority of the first order," he said."As followers of Jesus we should be there reaching out in whatever way we can to support (refugees) and so they should therefore be a major priority in the church's planning and discussions." According to The Age newspaper, the federal government has made a plea to convents, boarding houses and monasteries to house as many as 100 people. The Christmas Island detention centre can accommodate 2500 people, but already there are more than 2300 detainees living there.Sisters of Mercy Ballarat East congregation currently provides temporary accommodation for those seeking solace.Congregational leader Sister Veronica Lawson said the church would be happy to house the asylum seekers but not "detain" them."I would not be in favour of a detention centre ... but living in Ballarat, definitely," she said. "I think it's important for asylum seekers to be treated with the dignity that they deserve as human beings."It is understood that Member for Ballarat Catherine King's office has yet to receive any inquiries regarding the potential of housing asylum seekers in Ballarat.Ms King said the government was not in favour of families being held in detention centres."The Immigration Department has, as part of routine planning, been investigating a range of private properties around Australia as potential accommodation options for families and children, should the need arise," Ms King said.