Political activism growing in Sydney’s Catholic schools

Catholic education authorities in Sydney are encouraging students to speak out if they are unhappy with Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Sydney archdiocese executive director of Catholic schools Dan White said these schools have a long-standing tradition of encouraging students to engage with social justice issues.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a “remarkable” student activism is emerging the city’s Catholic schools.

Last month, students from Bethlehem College in Ashfield sat in public view in their school yard with tapes marked by their student numbers across their mouths.

Provocative images of refugees hung from their necks and school blazers.

The students did this every day for a week, during their lunch hour.

Elizabeth Moodey, Bethlehem College’s religious education coordinator, said the event was a pivotal moment for many of her young students.

“They stood in the cage in the centre of the city and they saw all of these adults walking past, not even taking any interest in what was going on,” she said.

The girls told her they “felt like nothing, no one cared, and that’s what these people feel like in detention centres”.

While the school has not experienced any great pushback from parents, it has received a number of dissenting emails from members of the public.

“They ask why a Catholic school is being a part of it,” Ms Moodey said.

“And our general response is that it is because we’re a Catholic school and these are our Catholic values.”

Students  at Saint Ignatius’ College, Riverview, where Tony Abbott went to school, sent the Australian Prime Minister a letter last year condemning his asylum-seeker policies, which, they argued, did not fit with Jesuit ideals.

On August 19, the Australian government announced the release of 150 asylum seeker children from detention centres on the Australian mainland.

But about 340 children held in offshore locations were not eligible.

A further 1547 children held in mainland community detention centres will be looked at case by case.

The announcement came days before the Australian immigration minister was due to face a human rights inquiry.

Sydney archdiocese schools have also pledged to provide free schooling to all refugee children who are in their schools.


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