Christian leaders urge Melbourne government to address 'regular rejection' of refugees

Christian leaders are urging Australia's immigration department to address what they call the "regular rejection" in its Melbourne office of Syrian and Iraqi asylum applicants, claiming that the federal government has granted most of its 12,000 humanitarian refugee visas to Sunni Muslims.

(REUTERS / David Gray)Protesters sit with placards in Sydney, Australia, February 4, 2017 during one of several rallies across Australia condemning U.S. President Donald Trump's order temporarily barring refugees and nationals from seven countries and demanding an end to Australia's offshore detention of asylum seekers.

On Thursday, Christian church leaders said the department's Melbourne office rejected 80 percent of asylum applications of Syrian and Iraqi Christians. They also called on the federal government to provide more visas to persecuted religious minorities from the Middle East, the Sydney Morning Herald details.

"There seems to be regular rejection [of Christian converts] by the Melbourne office," said Canon Dr. David Claydon, the chair of Barnabas Fund's persecuted minorities advocacy group.

Claydon also observed that the applications who tend to be rejected are usually Christian converts, but those born as Christians do not seem to have a problem with the process.

"Everyone [rejected] tends to be an apostate [someone who has converted]," said Dr. Claydon. "It is always the converts."

Colin Johnston, the Barnabas group's managing director, called for additional visa allocation for displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians.

Meanwhile, Australia confirmed that the United States stopped screening the refugees in Nauru for potential resettlement. The halt comes after new American president Donald Trump criticized a deal to resettle 1,250 detained refugees in the U.S., the BBC reports.

Australia has been embroiled in controversy because of its refusal to accept refugees mostly from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Instead, the asylum seekers are being held in detention centers in Papua New Guinea's Nauru and Manus Island.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the U.S. is expected to resume the screening "in due course." Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull discussed the issue over the phone last week, but Dutton said he still has no comment on the matter as officials from both countries are still working on it.

Based on Australian government statistics, there were 1,254 refugees being held on Manus and Nauru as of Nov. 30, 2016.