Growing unease with Australia’s treatment of asylum-seekers, particularly the locking up of children in detention centres, has prompted one of the largest Catholic school systems to offer free education to refugee students, reports The Australian.
Sydney Catholic Schools Executive Director, Dr Dan White, is establishing a bursary scheme for refugee students. The scheme would provide about $4000 a student a year to cover school fees and most of the cost of books and equipment.
Dr White said the scheme would take as many students as there were vacancies in schools. 'We stand ready to provide these children with an education,' Dr White said.
'The measure of a civilised society is how we treat the most vulnerable. It should never be our aim to punish people for seeking asylum.'
Dr White called for the immediate release of all children in detention, saying Australia was abrogating its responsibility as an affluent and compassionate society by failing to take them in. 'As a prosperous nation, we should take responsibility for processing applications for asylum rather than farm out this role to our regional neighbours, many of whom are struggling with their own local issues,' he said.
'I believe in 20 years’ time there will be a major government inquiry, just like we had for the Stolen Generations, where the next generation of Australians will condemn us for the way we have treated these children in recent years. I just hope education systems can stand up with their hand on their heart and say, "We did our best".'
Public schools in western Sydney already teach students from the Villawood detention centre, with teachers in some cases acting as guarantors so the children can be released to the school.
Dr White said Catholic schools would also be prepared to support these children in the same way, and educating children in the community improved their sense of wellbeing and happiness.
Photo: Dan White with refugee Judith Nwosu and students Tiana Nader, far left, and Gabriel Forneah, far right
Catholics ready to school refugees (The Australian)