More than 400 people turned out in Geelong on April 5 to demand that the government be more humane to refugees and asylum seekers.
The Combined Refugee Action Group (CRAG) organised the rally, and called on the government to: immediately end offshore processing and mandatory detention, re-install family reunion for refugees, and to end the indefinite detention of refugees with negative ASIO status.
CRAG said the fact that hundreds attended the rally in a relatively small city shows a growing number of people in Australia are unhappy about the recent events at Manus Island, where peaceful protests by detainees were brutally attacked by locals and guards, leading to at least one death.
Speakers included a local Anglican Bishop, who spoke at length about the need to treat refugees with compassion, and the cruelty of our own government's policies. Former Tamil refugee Aran Mylvaganam related his experiences of being persecuted.
He said the government's claims that many refugees are "economic refugees" -- who only seek asylum for better material conditions -- was based on lies and distortions. “Refugees do not want to leave their home," he said.
Jason Brown, a counsellor who has worked with refugees in the Manus Island detention centre, said the camps have a strong negative impact on the mental health of refugees.
Those who took part in the rally wrote messages of support on the footpath in chalk. One read: “Deport Abbott, Free the refugees”. Another said: “Refugees are people and all people deserve rights”.
CRAG has previously organised a public meeting on refugee rights that drew more than 800 people.
It is an illustration of the growing discontent in regional areas with the government’s failure to live up to the commitments in the United Nations refugee convention.