Chanting “refugees — freedom now, don’t treat people worse than cows”, 50 refugee rights protesters confronted immigration minister Chris Bowen at a refugee conference on June 17.
The protest, which was called by the Refugee Action Coalition, marched into the University of NSW lecture theatre in which Bowen was addressing the conference, before police and security ejected the activists.
Many of those inside the conference, which was organised by the Centre for Refugee Research, supported the protest. About half the room turned their backs on Bowen.
One protester dressed as a cow carried a sign that read: “Ban live human exports to Malaysia”. Other demonstrators carried cow bells, pointing out the hypocrisy of the federal government’s treatment of cattle compared to human beings.
While acting to prevent degrading treatment of cattle exported overseas, the government is promoting degrading treatment of asylum seekers by sending them to Malaysia, a country that is not a signatory to the refugee convention and is notorious for mistreatment of asylum seekers.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul told the rally there could be no confidence in Bowen’s assurances that asylum seekers sent to Malaysia would not be caned or abused.
He gave the example of an asylum seeker who was recently sent back to Syria by the Australian government, at a time when the Syrian regime has killed more than 1000 political opponents.
Other speakers said Bowen was responsible for the unlawful detention of hundreds of children.
Throughout Bowen’s speech chants of “shame” and “no human exports, no Malaysia solution” could be heard from outside, before the minister departed through a rear exit escorted by police.