Nine-hour refugee vigil in Hobart

Greens Senator Nick McKim speaking at the rally in Hobart.
Greens Senator Nick McKim speaking at the rally on September 16.

Every day, people’s human rights are violated. In detention centres like those on Nauru and Manus Island, such violations are not just allowed but enforced by the Australian government. However, last month people stood together for nine hours to tell the Australian government that they would not accept it any longer. 

The vigil was held in the Hobart CBD from 10am to 7pm. People took turns reading to onlookers from the Nauru case files that were recently leaked by the Guardian. Others held placards and banners with messages of solidarity for the people in detention centres at Manus and Nauru. 

Green Left Weekly’s Emma Field asked Hannah Ekin, one of the organisers of this refugee vigil, her thoughts on the issue.

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The first reading was actually in London outside Australia House, which is the biggest Australian Embassy in the world. And now there has been one every day in every capital city in Australia.

Getting rid of detention is one of the most important political issues we face as Australians, and I think it is really important to draw attention to the fact that this goes on every day … Even as you walk about your business, going to work or whatever, people are still in Nauru. They are still suffering trauma and physical harm and they are unsafe, and it is our government who is doing that, supposedly in our names.

I think it is really important to gather people together to witness what is happening on Nauru, and also to draw attention to the fact that the public mood is changing on this. People are no longer willing to accept this and there is no longer an excuse of not knowing what is going on because everything is available on the internet. We know, we have documentation, that this stuff is happening.

Allowing people to engage with us to whatever extent they are comfortable with and to slowly let that sink in, is a really important step in making the situation feel real and urgent for ordinary people.

We do not have amplification, we are not famous people, we are just normal Australians, and the message itself is the powerful bit of this.

It can often feel really hard to understand or even empathise with what happens out there because it is so different from our everyday lives. I think just having a moment to sit with those facts — how many people there are, how many incidents happen in one day — can be really important in making people feel more strongly about what is going on.

Don’t give up, I think this is going to change and it is really important to feel like you can do something, even if you feel disempowered about this. Write to your politicians, organise more actions, it is all about building momentum and changing the conversation. 

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