More than 100 people marched in Northcote on March 10 in support of refugee rights. The rally was called by the Refugee Action Collective to focus attention on refugees in the context of the Batman by-election.
Aziz Muhammad, who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for 5 years, spoke to the rally via skype. He spoke of the “terrible” conditions on Manus Island. The three camps where refugees are living are overcrowded. There is no proper medical care. Mental health is deteriorating, as people see no hope. Refugees have been badly beaten by local people.
Aziz called on Labor politicians to join with the Greens to fix the “mess” that they helped to create.
Aran Mylvaganam, a Tamil refugee now working as a Finance Sector Union organiser, said the government, with Labor’s support, is sending people back to countries such as Sri Lanka where they face the likelihood of torture and death.
Santharuban, a Tamil refugee recently sent back to Sri Lanka, has been harassed by Military Intelligence. “We fear for his life”, Mylvaganam said.
He reported that about 1300 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have had their cases rejected and face deportation. In the early morning of March 5, police raided the Queensland home of a couple with two young children and took them to the Broadmeadows detention centre in Victoria in preparation for deportation. Mylvaganam described this as “state-sponsored terror” and called on unions to take up the case.
Linda King from Grandmothers Against Detention said 150 children are detained on Nauru. There are also several pregnant women there. Nauru lacks adequate medical care.
David Johns, who worked as a teacher on Manus Island for four years, spoke of the widespread mental illness there due to lack of hope.
Shawfikul Islam, a Rohingya refugee and National Union of Workers organiser, said there are more than one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh who fled genocide in Myanmar. The Australian government remains silent and maintains military ties with Myanmar. It also keeps hundreds of Rohingya in prison on Manus Island and Nauru.
Alex Bhathal, the Greens candidate for Batman, said that if elected she would vote to end mandatory detention.
Rally co-chair Liam Ward told the rally Labor candidate Ged Kearney had been invited to speak, but had not responded. He said she had a record of speaking out for refugees in the past, but has “gone quiet” since being preselected.