Nationwide protests say: ‘Six years too long’

Sydney's 'Six years too long' rally. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Thousands of refugee rights activists, in more than 20 protests around the country, filled streets chanting “Six years too long, bring them here” on July 20.

The rallies marked six years since Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd decided that no one who sought asylum via boat would be granted it. Rudd’s decision on July 19, 2013 was an act of political expediency designed to outflank the Coalition from the right on refugee policy in the lead up to the federal elections that year.

Since then, at least a dozen people have died in offshore detention. Numerous people have attempted suicide.

About 800 people are still detained on Manus Island and Nauru after six years. Many are struggling to maintain any hope they will ever be safely resettled. The allocation in the deal with the United States is almost exhausted.

Refugees marched at the front of Sydney’s rally with placards of their stories and suffering. One man’s read: “My family is dying. Dad with a son here. Mum with a son in Jordan.” Another read: “We are victims of electoral deals”.

The international context of the rallies was highlighted, with chants of “From Nauru to Mexico, all border walls have got to go”.

Rally-goers sat down at a busy intersection for several minutes blocking traffic after the police, unexpectedly, prevented the rally from marching down Pitt Street Mall, a traditional march route.

In Perth, rally-goers held up banners from the past six years including those from snap rallies in 2013 and Reza Berati’s death in January 2014. Towards the end of the line was a “Kids off Nauru” banner, a demand the movement has won.

Speakers highlighted the need to defend the Medevac law that, while flawed, has allowed a number of people to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seeking to remove it. But a campaign has begun to get crossbench Senators to support keeping it.