Is There No Refuge? Dutton's Deaf Ear to the Plight of Coptic Christians is Unconscionable

First published by ABC Religion and Ethics | 29 May 2017

Since the establishment of the Coptic Church in Australia almost 50 years ago, it hurts me to see that for the first time the Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton has chosen not to intervene in protection visa matters that we as a church directly support.

There are more than 20 Coptic families that are facing forced return to Egypt despite the unprecedented attacks and acts of terrorism that Copts in Egypt now face regularly.

It is unconscionable that these families are being forced to return. Our community does not understand the Federal Government's tough stance on this matter.

These families were persecuted in Egypt and we feel compelled to support them. By condemning them to return to Egypt, we are genuinely concerned that they will face further unprovoked attacks.

Many of these families have lived, worked and volunteered within our society for several years and some have children born in Australia. Forcing parents and young children into such dangers is unacceptable and we must raise our voices to help our brothers and sisters.

These families have genuine fears of returning back and our community fears for them. As a peace-loving community and valuable contributors to Australian society, I feel that we deserve to be treated better than this.

The continued violence against Copts in Egypt is deplorable. It is horrifying and inconceivable that innocent people have been terrorised and murdered through another senseless attack. As a bus of Coptic Christians travelled to a monastery in central Egypt on Friday, they were ruthlessly murdered and maimed by masked gunmen.

These Islamists asked, "What is your faith?" and the pilgrims responded, "We were born Christian, live as Christians and will die as Christians." At this point the terrorists shot dead all the men and then targeted some of the women, youth and children - leaving 28 dead and 24 injured. They also distributed to those remaining propaganda material containing Quranic verses and information on the Ramadan fast. I wonder, what type of sadistic God do they imagine would accept such fasting from terrorists who kill innocent lives?

Not only is this attack a sad moment for our Christian community, but also for mankind following what happened in Manchester earlier that same week. In both cases, innocent children were the targets in attacks against our freedom. We must act together to end this cycle of violence.

Our 80,000 strong Coptic community in Australia is grieving, but we must also holdfast to a positive message of unity, peace and hope to help heal the hate. By recognising past atrocities and moving forward together, we can shine a light on the power of forgiveness and love.

For the past 10 years, we have witnessed horrific acts of persecution towards the Copts and our fellow Christians in the Middle East. As the largest Christian church in the Middle East and one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, founded by the apostle St. Mark in 55AD, our church is a target.

Last month, our spiritual leader, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, narrowly avoided harm in the Palm Sunday attacks on St George's Cathedral in Tanta and at St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria. His Holiness was celebrating Palm Sunday service to commence the holiest week in the Coptic calendar before ISIS suicide bombers attacked two churches leaving at least 45 people dead and 126 injured.

The St. Mark's Cathedral bomb was a strategic move by ISIS that blatantly sought to take the life of our leader.

In coming months, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, one of only two sitting Popes in the world, will make his first official visit to Australia. Our community is optimistic his visit will bring new hope and an opportunity to heal.

From 30 August to 13 September 2017, Pope Tawadros II will visit Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra as a pastoral priority. His words and prayers will propagate a message of peace, and soothe the Australian Copts' broken hearts after hearing of their people killed and maimed by the unprovoked attacks in Egypt.

He will meet with state and federal government ministers, the Governor-General, the Egyptian Ambassador and religious leaders along with many members of our Coptic community.

We ask for all those in authority to support us in our pursuit of upholding justice and righteousness. I urge all Australians to walk in solidarity with our Coptic community and call upon the Australian government to urgently offer protection for our Copts. Our government must join forces with the Egyptian government in a concerted effort to ramp up security to ensure safety for the Copts of Egypt.


His Grace Bishop Anba Suriel is the Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne, and the Chancellor and Dean of St Athanasius College, University of Divinity.