Rally vows to defend refugees’ rights

Melbourne protest for refugee rights on May 24. Photo: Refugee Action Collective (Victoria)

Three hundred people rallied on May 24 to show solidarity with refugees, who face increasing attacks following the re-election of the Coalition government.

Lucy Honan, representing the Refugee Action Collective which called the rally, said the election result had been “bruising” for refugees and their supporters. Even though Labor and the Coalition shared bipartisan policies of offshore detention and boat turnbacks, refugees had hoped for some changes from a Labor government.

Labor had promised to accept New Zealand's offer to take 150 refugees a year from Manus and Nauru. This had raised the hopes of the people on these islands. The loss of this hope resulted in at least 12 suicide attempts.

There had also been hope that Labor would give permanent protection for those refugees living in the Australian community on temporary visas, and would review the case of Priya, Nades and their children, the family from Biloela now facing deportation to Sri Lanka.

Honan said the rally was intended to send a message to the government that “we will not stop fighting” for refugee rights. She pointed to some of the past successes of the movement, including the passage of the medical evacuation bill, and the “let them stay” campaign, which has prevented hundreds of people who had been brought to Australia for medical treatment from being returned to Manus or Nauru.

That campaign included a Queensland Council of Trade Unions-organised vigil outside the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane to prevent the removal of baby Asha. Honan said that similar actions would be needed again.

Also speaking at the rally was Aran Mylvaganam, from the Tamil Refugee Council. He said the re-election of the Morrison government had created fear among Tamil refugees in Australia. Many face deportation to Sri Lanka, which could be a “death sentence”. He said it is necessary to “build a mass movement that Morrison can’t ignore”.

Mylvaganam said Morrison had helped the Sri Lankan government to “whitewash its genocidal crimes against Tamils”. As immigration minister in 2014 he had detained 157 asylum seekers on the high seas for more than a month.

Mylvaganam said that Priya and Nades are “living in fear”, as they could be deported at any time. He said refugee supporters need to be prepared to take action, even if it means breaking the law.

Mylvaganam also spoke of the current situation in Sri Lanka. The military is using the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks as an excuse for increased harassment of Tamils. Muslims have been attacked by Sinhalese chauvinists. Their shops have been burnt, and thousands have been driven from their homes.

Mylvaganam said that the lives of refugees will be in danger if they are sent back to Sri Lanka. He said refugee supporters need to organise in their communities and workplaces to prevent this happening.

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