Movement for refugee rights converges on Canberra

Photo: Peter Boyle

Supporters of refugees from Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, the Blue Mountains and Newcastle converged on Parliament House in Canberra on November 18.

About 600 protesters gathered, among them were Hazara and Iranian refugees.

The protest coincided with the Labor parliamentary caucus meeting to decide whether to support the Greens move to disallow temporary protection visas.

The busloads of protesters from Melbourne arrived first and held a protest near the ASIO building before the main protest. This early protest was in solidarity with asylum seekers who have been found to be refugees but are being held in detention indefinitely for years because of negative ASIO assessments.

Hand-painted banners made by these refugees in the Broadmeadows detention centre were held up at this protest.

Retired Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh addressed this protest and said the problem is not difficult. “The Australian government could set up a refugee processing centre in Sri Lanka in order to resettle the mostly Tamil and other Sri Lankan refugees.”

The main demands of the protesters at Parliament House were for permanent protection, not temporary protection visas.

Other demands include an increase to Australia's refugee quota, fair legal process for all refugee claims, the right to work for asylum seekers, an end to mandatory detention, allowing processing and resettlement of refugees in Australia, and safe transport to Australia for refugees in the region.

Keynote speakers at the main rally included Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Tamil Refugee Council spokesperson Aran Mylvaganam, Hazara refugee Mohammad Ali Baqiri who was held on Nauru under the John Howard government, West Papuan refugee Amos Wainggai, Reverend Rod Bowers from the Anglican Church in Gosford, Ilia Vurtel from Labor for Refugees, Steve Darwin, secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union in the ACT, Gregor Henderson from the Uniting Church ACT, Robin de Crispigny author of The People Smuggler and Nos Hosseini from the Iranian Women’s Association.

There was a good representation at the protest from the Rural Australians for Refugees networks in Victoria and regional NSW. Two Catholic schools took part with students, teachers and parents from Melbourne, Canberra, regional NSW and Perth.

Several unions from the ACT were represented with small contingents.

Some people travelled from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and Wollongong in NSW and indicated they may set up refugee rights groups on their return.

The protesters from Sydney also held a protest outside the Papua New Guinea High Commission. This was to call on the PNG government to end the deal with Australia and close Manus Island detention camp.
One of the organisers of the protest, Sue Bolton said the protest was organised to send a message to the government that there is a growing movement around Australia to support refugees and asylum seekers.

She said: “We will do whatever it takes to oppose the government’s cruel policies. We will mobilise to stop deportations of asylum seekers to danger. We are mobilising to try to end the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island. We want asylum seekers to be able to claim asylum in Australia.

“We are opposed to the reintroduction of temporary protection visas and call on the ALP to honour its policy and vote against the reintroduction of temporary protection visas. These visas condemn refugees to a lifetime of uncertainty.”

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