Refugee campaigners to converge on parliament

The opening session of the new parliament in Canberra next month will be met by a national convergence of refugee rights activists and campaigners.

The convergence will likely take place on November 18, soon after MPs return to Canberra. Convergence organisers say: “The Coalition government has made asylum seekers and refugees their first target. During their first sitting of parliament, refugee supporters from around Australia will converge outside to show them it won't be tolerated.”

PM Tony Abbott's tough and cruel plans for asylum seekers was popularised by the corporate media. However, the Coalition's election win had more to do with a widespread discontent with Labor, which lost popularity rapidly over its two terms in office.

Now that Abbott is in government, he has moved swiftly on most of his policy plans. The immigration department was instructed to begin issuing temporary protection visas (TPVs) on Abbott's first day as PM, and three-star general Angus Campbell became leader of “Operation Sovereign Borders” — a military response to a humanitarian crisis.

Yet Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison have been sweating over several other policies they've introduced with little forewarning, including their attempts to cover up news of boat arrivals and not telling the public when boats are turned around at sea.

This backfired on September 27 with news of an asylum boat that sank near Indonesia, killing more than 50 people including children and one man's entire family. Abbott ignored and fled from reporters who tried to question him on the tragedy.

Despite Morrison's insistence that the government is not a “shipping news service for people smugglers”, reporters and citizens have launched a concerted effort to undermine his bid to control information about refugees.

However, Morrison is exercising huge resources to thwart transparency and hide refugees from the public eye. A 48-hour turnaround plan to intercept boats at sea and expel asylum seekers to offshore detention would ensure countless numbers could be mustered through Christmas Island before anyone on the mainland could know.

His new weekly “briefings”, and suppression of the immigration department's release of information, is clearly intended to obscure what's taking place on Australia's borders.

The Sydney Refugee Action Coalition said campaigners should be on alert as pressure on the government increases: “The 'PNG solution' could implode at any minute. Health problems with malaria are constant — the Labor government was forced to evacuate all family groups from the centre. And PNG still has no plans in place to allow the resettlement of a single asylum seeker, let alone the 3000 planned.

“The new government's attempts to 'hide the boats' by restricting information about boat arrivals shows they are not confident in their own policies, and tend towards deception over transparency. If we keep up our protests and force attention on the offshore detention centres, the refugee movement can help get them closed.”
The convergence at Parliament House will raise pressure on the Coalition to answer to these deliberate human rights violations.

The convergence will call for permanent protection visas, the closure of all offshore and onshore detention centres, a fair legal process for all refugee claims, the right to work for asylum seekers, and for refugees from the Pacific region to be resettled, such as West Papuan refugees.

An action outside ASIO’s Canberra office will draw attention to the spy agency's punitive security assessments, which have kept many refugees in permanent detention unable to appeal for their release.

Most importantly, advocates will call for no deportations. Asylum seekers are already being deported frequently — both voluntarily and involuntarily. Lawyers are waging several cases in the High Court to try to protect refugees from the Coalition's ability to deport them with impunity.

Yet should these cases exhaust, thousands of refugees could be at risk of repatriation. The reintroduction of TPVs will mean this will need to be a rolling campaign — every three years a TPV holder will have to re-apply for their protection.

Convergence organisers say: “A vibrant refugee movement forced [former PM] John Howard back in the past. We shifted public opinion — in 2001 a Newspoll found that 47% of people though any asylum boats should be allowed to land, by 2004 it was 61%.

“John Howard was forced to release children and long term detainees from detention due to political pressure in 2004/2005.

“The anger displayed at mass rallies since [former PM] Rudd announced the PNG deal can to be turned on Abbott and the Coalition and used to build the refugee campaign in the community and in the unions.”

[The Canberra Convergence is being organised by the Refugee Advocacy Network. Buses are being organised from Melbourne and Sydney. For more information on the Melbourne bus email trconcepts@netspace.net.au or phone 0409 252 673. For more information on the Sydney bus phone 0430 554 263. For more information visit the “Refugee Action Coalition Sydney” on Facebook.]

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