The Sanctity of Asylum: The Legality of Church Sanctuary in Australia

5 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2017 Last revised: 5 Feb 2017

See all articles by Maria O'Sullivan

Maria O'Sullivan

Monash University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: December 14, 2016


In early 2016, representatives from a number of churches in Australia publicly stated that they would offer sanctuary to asylum seekers who were at risk of deportation to Nauru. These statements were made after the High Court handed down a decision which rejected a challenge to the constitutionality of the Nauru Regional Processing Centre. The offer of sanctuary by certain churches in Australia is a significant development both legal and politically, particularly as the legality of sanctuary has never been tested under Australian law. This paper therefore addresses the legal concept of sanctuary as it applies to refugees and asylum seekers. It discusses the current legal position under the Australian Migration Act, the historical practice of sanctuary and its categorisation as an act of civil disobedience. In doing so, it will analyse the Sanctuary Movement in the United States in the 1980s as an analogous example of civil disobedience and to establish how this has been dealt with in another jurisdiction.

Keywords: asylum, refugees, sanctuary, civil disobedience

JEL Classification: K10, K37, K42

Suggested Citation

O'Sullivan, Maria, The Sanctity of Asylum: The Legality of Church Sanctuary in Australia (December 14, 2016). (2016) 41(4) Alternative Law Journal; Monash University Faculty of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017/01. Available at SSRN:

Maria O'Sullivan (Contact Author)

Monash University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Wellington Road
Clayton, Victoria 3800

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