Refugee activists on their work in the community

In the lead up to the Palm Sunday refugee rights rallies Green Left Weekly’s Zebedee Parkes spoke to activists in the refugee campaign about the work they are doing in their communities and why they are coming to the rallies on March 25.

Keira Dott

Keira Dott: Students Against Detention activist at Newcastle university

Universities in Australia are supposed to be places of learning about the world and today’s society, particularly how to address injustices, so it makes sense that they are also places where people can mobilise to take action against the parties in power.

Younger students are the generation with the power to create a future free from the fascism and capitalism that create and enable xenophobic policies, such as the detaining of refugees and asylum seekers in offshore detention centres.

Therefore, I believe it is essential that students mobilise and take action against the detaining of refugees.

One of the roles students can play in the #bringthemhere campaign, is to ensure that their university isn’t employing or investing in any companies involved in detaining refugees and asylum seekers, such as Wilson Security.

If they aren’t, that’s great, but there need to be policies/or formal agreements in place that prohibit the university from employing or investing in companies involved in detention. If their university is doing this, then it’s the obligation of students and staff to campaign for their university to terminate their investments or contracts.

These campaigns help to destroy the social license of companies involved in detaining refugees, while also affecting the company financially. It also raises awareness on campus and in the wider society of the injustice of detaining refugees and asylum seekers and makes Australia’s offshore detention centres less socially acceptable to the whole of society.

[SAD successfully forced Newcastle University to cut its ties with Wilson Security last year.]

Tim Gooden

Tim Gooden: Union activist and co-convener of Combined Refugee Action in Geelong

It is critically important that unions are part of the refugee campaign because there is a general attack against anyone who can be scapegoated by right wing governments now.

It doesn't matter whether they are refugees, workers or Aboriginal people, we are all under attack. There is more that unites us than divides us and all unions and unionists must stand up for refugee rights because we're next.

All unions, including the ACTU, need to be at all the rallies. In fact we need to get our representatives to put forward a pro-refugee position at the next Labor Conference and force them to dump the appalling policies of detaining people on Manus Island and Nauru and detention generally. Otherwise let's press for disaffiliation from Labor!

Sue Bull

Sue Bull: Union activist

It is vitally important that unions, with all their influence on workers, stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the most oppressed people throughout the world: refugees!

Most refugees are workers. They are not the enemy, nor are they secretly terrorists, job thieves or dole bludgers.

The union movement must help fight these insidious myths and stand up for human rights. If our unions proudly stood in their thousands with their banners at this Palm Sunday, I'm sure it would have a huge impact and help stop the inhumane treatment of refugees by Australian governments.

Michelle Bui

Michelle Bui: Refugee Rights Action Network (WA) activist

Visibility is important, particularly given how the government systematically seeks to silence refugees and people seeking asylum and render their circumstances invisible to the broader community.

Taking to the streets or entering a contested space is a means of challenging the lethal border politics that Australia continues to enact and demonstrate that there are sections of the community who will not be complicit.

These acts of solidarity mean something to people who have been denied freedom or the ability to live with a sense of security.

While systemic change has yet to eventuate, we have had small wins along the way that have left chips in a system that requires sustained people power and political action to break it.

The courage and resistance of people seeking safety, particularly the writers, journalists and activists who continue to fight for their freedom in circumstances Australians can only imagine, is a constant source of motivation.

Lily Matchett

Lily Matchett: Whistleblowers Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA) activist

I think the direct actions we have taken at Parliament House and the Sydney Opera House are important because they make visible the Australian public's condemnation of our politicians’ treatment of refugees.

These direct actions clearly tell our politicians, the Australian public and international audiences the inhumanity we as ordinary citizens feel is being perpetrated by our government against vulnerable people.

These actions remind other Australians they are not alone in feeling that this is an unjustifiable humanitarian crisis. These actions remind other countries that Australia is in a political crisis and has innocent people's blood on their hands.

Watching our white colonial politicians lock up innocent, vulnerable people fills me with rage and a sense of injustice that motivates me to get up and take action.

I feel so powerless watching refugees struggle on Manus Island, but feel a sense of political power and agency when I stand in solidarity with the men on Manus Island, disrupt business as usual and vocalise our dissent to this racist border policing process.

Niko Leka

Niko Leka: Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy

We've had two years of refugee actions every Thursday near Labor MP Sharon Claydon’s office. Faith, political and community groups are taking part. The overwhelming response from office workers going home is positive.

We've had several rallies, numerous fundraiser film screenings for phone credit [for refugees] and many letter and opinion pieces in the Newcastle Herald. It means we have been able to reach middle Australia, but the question now is to motivate it. Hunter Asylum Seeker Advocacy (HASA) is now in the process of strategic planning to achieve that.

Rural groups are vital because a majority of people across Australia are opposed to current immigration policy and these groups are increasingly becoming the voice of their community. Especially promising is the networking of rural and urban groups via the Australian Refugee Action Network.

I think we need to engage civic institutions more with our cause, by declaring support for community processing and ending detention as a failed, counter-productive and expensive disaster.

Behrouz Boochani

Behrouz Boochani: Iranian journalist detained on Manus Island

It’s really hard to describe the situation because it is very complicated. We are in a situation where we have no control over our lives and are only waiting. We have been waiting for five years and still don’t know how many years we will stay in a situation that I call "living in limbo". It’s a big torture.

These days, people are only waiting for an answer from the US. We have some cases with serious mental illness and they really need medical treatment. People feel forgotten and hopeless.

My message is very clear: most of the refugees in Manus Island don’t want to go to Australia. We are asking the Australian people to put pressure on the government to just let us go.

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