High school group leads refugee rights protest

August 12, 2011

The Refugee Advocacy Group (RAG) was recently formed by high school students in Geelong. The group organised a refugee rights protest in the city on August 13. Green Left Weekly’s Ben Peterson spoke to Max Hill, a year 11 student and founder of RAG.

Tell us about RAG and how this all got started

Max Hill: Basically, the group came about after [immigration minister Chris] Bowen planned to sign the "Malaysian solution".

I saw it on the front page of the news and although we didn't have a group together at that point, I made plans to hold a protest in Geelong. I got a group of friends together from school and started organising this rally, and this group became RAG.

So had you been thinking through politics before, and the Malaysia solution put you over the edge?

MH: Well, politics has been an interest of mine for a while now, yet I think that the treatment of refugees is something that should be separate from politics.

It's not a matter of politics. It's a matter of human rights. I've heard the 800 refugees involved in this so-called solution described as “pawns in a political game” and I don't think this could be put more accurately.

What has the response been like?

MH: We’ve been together only for a short time, but we’ve had an amazing reception from many individuals and organisations in the community who have helped us out in supporting our rally and our cause in general.

We’ve had great help from the Socialist Alliance in Geelong, Geelong Trades Hall, the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne, Resistance and other refugee groups in our area.

What are the plans for RAG in the future?

MH: As a group, we are completely disillusioned with the treatment of refugees in this country.

The treatment of refugees in our detention centres is appalling and we will keep working and campaigning not only until the eradication of offshore processing, but until refugees are processed here in the Australian community under humane conditions.

What would you say to other high school students that are pissed off about the treatment of refugees?

MH: You’re not the only ones out there who are pissed off about the treatment of refugees in this country. There are heaps of groups out there who are working to improve the treatment of refugees here in Australia — so don’t sit back and do nothing.

There is so much you can do to get your voice heard and it’s important that we keep challenging the government to respect their obligations as a UN refugee convention signatory (believe it or not we are indeed a signatory).

Even if it’s just coming along to rallies, it makes a world of difference.

Anything else you'd like to add?

MH: Thanks to anyone and everyone out there who has helped us gain publicity so far. We have a protest coming up in Geelong this weekend so check out our website at www.facebook.com/refugeeadvocacygeelong and bring your, friends, families, workmates, and your megaphones.

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