Coptic family can stay: Public pressure made all the difference, says organiser

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Sydney-based Ashraf Boshre applied to stay in Australia with his wife Amany, their three daughters, Maria, 24, Mira, 19 and Monica, 13 along with his elderly parents, his sister and her daughter. After initially being refused, they recently received news that they would be allowed to stay after a ministerial fiat. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

After public pressure, media spotlighting and a Change.org petition, the Department of Immigration has granted asylum visas to Sydney-based Coptic Christian family Ashraf Boshra and his wife Amany along with their three daughters, Maria, 24, Mira, 19 and Monica, 13.

This comes as a huge relief to the family, who were told just two weeks ago to “pack their bags” and leave the country by the end of June.

The family had been waiting for asylum visas since 2013, and the rejection came as a complete shock. Ashraf’s father was hospitalised for two days, and the youngest daughter began exhibiting symptoms of anxiety.

Medhat Attia of the Australian Coptic Movement, told The Catholic Weekly he was convinced that putting the Boshra family “in the media and the public eye” was the catalyst for reversing the department’s decision.

“Both the Sydney and the Melbourne heads of the Coptic Church met with Peter Dutton, and their visas were still rejected. Yet within a week of the petition and taking it to the media, the decision was reversed,” he said.

Medhat met Ashraf Boshra “by accident” at St Mary and St Mina Coptic Cathedral in Sydney. After hearing his story, Medhat initiated the Change.org petition asking Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, to grant the Boshra family asylum. It attracted over 8,000 signatures.

“On behalf of this family, I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to sign and share this petition … and on behalf of the Australian Coptic Movement, we would like to thank everyone who has helped, and the Immigration Department for their work with the Coptic cases,” he said.

Bishop Anba Suriel, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions said that he was “deeply grateful” to Alex Hawke MP, Assistant Minister for Immigration, for the decision.

“This has had a very positive effect within the community,” he said.

“I have also been informed that several other families have been requested to proceed with health checks which gives a positive indication that the minister will most likely reverse his decision also with respect to their cases,” he said.

Bishop Suriel here refers to the 21 other Coptic Christian families, 83 individuals in total, who also had their asylum visas rejected by the department around the same time.

“These families should not be subjected to a situation where their lives would be placed in danger by returning to Egypt,” he said.

Coptic Christians in Egypt continue to face severe danger. The residual but strong elements of the Muslim Brotherhood continue to commit openly hostile attacks on Christian communities that go largely unpunished, and ISIS have made unambiguous statements that Coptic Christians are their “favourite prey”.

Peter Yousef travelled to Australia in 2016, fleeing persecution at the hands of Egyptian authorities infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Peter had to leave his pregnant wife behind, along with their young son.

One year later and there has been no advancement in his asylum application with the DI: “He has not even seen his youngest child,” said Medhat.

Medhat, himself a father of three said, “I can’t even imagine how he must be missing his wife and two sons.”

Peter is just one of many Coptic Christian seeking asylum who is not among the 21 families being reassessed.

“I urge the ministry to seriously consider protecting these families and allowing them permanent visas also,” said Bishop Suriel.

“If the minister does allow all these families to stay then this would give great confidence among the Coptic community in our current government in protecting such families whose lives may be placed in danger,” he said.

“My hope is that all these will be allowed to permanently reside in Australia and to give them hope for a fresh start in life,” he said.