The Guradain reported that Coptic Christians who were refused refugee status in Australia will have their claims for protection reconsidered, following a spate of violent assaults on the religious minority in Egypt.
About 20 Coptic families previously facing forced removal from Australia will be given visas to stay in the country while their claims are re-evaluated.
Persecution of Christians in Egypt by terrorists aligned with Islamic State has significantly worsened in recent months, with a series of bombings and targeted massacres.
On Palm Sunday, two Coptic churches – in Tanta and in Alexandria – were attacked by suicide bombers, killing 45 Christian worshippers.
On 26 May, 28 Copts en route to a monastery near Cairo were dragged from their vehicles and executed by gunmen after refusing to recite the shahada – the primary Muslim profession of faith. Christians comprise about 10% of Egypt’s population of 95 million. About 85% of the population are Muslim, with the vast majority being Sunni.
The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the loss of more followers of the Coptic Christian faith to terrorism was “felt deeply by the rest of the Australian community”.
“Australia stands united with the Coptic Christians in shared resolve to eradicate the scourge of terrorism,” Turnbull said.
Since 2013, about 550 protection visas have been granted to Coptic Christians in Australia. The immigration minister and assistant immigration minister have intervened in about 70 cases this year to grant protection visas.
In parliament on Monday, the Labor member for Wills, Peter Khalil – himself a Coptic Christian born in Egypt – urged the government to halt the removal of Copts from Australia.
“The Copts in Egypt today are under siege, attacked relentlessly by Islamic State,” he told the House of Representatives. “The whole world can see that Islamic State and their affiliates have made the Copts their primary target over the past 12 months.”
On Wednesday, the assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, announced updated country information from Egypt and highlighted the increasing danger Copts were facing at the hands of Isis.
Hawke said his office would review all protection applications by Coptic Christians that have been refused by both the immigration department and by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. It is understood about 20 Coptic families faced removal to Egypt.
“The government will carefully assess cases of Coptic Christians in Australia during this period of emergency in Egypt. Copts in Australia will have an appropriate visa during this period to remain lawfully here,” Hawke said.
“The government actively monitors and updates country information and will continue to work with the Coptic community, the local Coptic Church, the Australian embassy in Egypt and DFAT to ensure immigration decisions reflect the current situation in Egypt.”
The temporary protection is not a guarantee of permanent protection, Hawke said. All claims will still be assessed against international legal criteria for protection.
“Like any other visa applicant, each case will be assessed on its merits with careful consideration given to the identity, authenticity of documents, credibility of claims and character of the applicant. Those found not to engage Australia’s protection obligations will be expected to depart Australia at an appropriate time in the future.”
Coptic Bishop of Melbourne, Anba Suriel, said in response to Hawke’s statement: “I truly hope that you will approve all cases before you. I’m in Cairo and the situation is dire to say the least.”