More than 200 people participated in a rally and march for refugee rights on September 2. A similar rally was also held in Sydney.
The demonstration was organised at short notice by the Refugee Action Collective in response to the federal government's decision to end the $100 a week income support for people who were brought to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for medical treatment and evict them from the houses they are living in. This will initially affect 100 people, but may eventually affect many more.
Rally co-chair Angelica Panopoulos said the federal government is "throwing people on the streets with absolutely nothing". She called on the Victorian Labor government and Premier Daniel Andrews to provide housing and support to these people.
Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire said we should befriend strangers, such as the refugees, remembering that each of us could in future be a stranger in need of help.
Federal Labor MP Andrew Giles said he hoped Australians will adopt a more compassionate attitude towards refugees, but did not put forward any clear call for a change in current government policy.
Rally co-chair Chloe Fuller said that government policies could be successfully challenged, citing the action at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, where doctors and nurses, with the support of refugee activists and unionists, prevented the deportation of Baby Asha.
Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council said the government is putting refugees in a desperate situation to pressure them to return to their home countries, where they face torture and death.
Mylvaganam said the "corrupt" Australian government is waging "war" on refugees in an attempt to divert attention away from the real problems facing the Australian people. He called on the trade union movement to lead the fightback.
Helen Driscoll, a psychiatrist specialising in trauma and sexual assault, told of the horrific treatment of refugees who have been victims of rape. Some have been kept in shackles when taken to the Centre Against Sexual Assault for counselling. Methods of restraint are used on these women that are not used on criminals.
Shawfikul Islam, from the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, spoke about the ethnic cleansing in Burma that led him to come to Australia by boat. He said that refugees have made a big contribution to Australia in the past, and Rohingyas want to do the same.
A collection was taken up to help the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to assist refugees affected by the government's ending of income support.
To donate to the ASRC's fund for helping these refugees:
- SMS “SAFE” as the key word to 0437 371 371 and click the link sent back to you.
- Enter first name, last name, email and choose the amount you wish to donate.
- Make secure payment.