Refugee movement sets 2012 plans

Refugee rights rally outside ALP national conference, December 4. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Refugee rights activists representing groups and individuals from Darwin, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, and the Blue Mountains met on December 3 to plan campaign activities for this year.

It was the first national gathering of refugee rights campaigners since federal Labor's 2007 election, and fittingly occurred on the same weekend as the ALP's national conference. Labor further entrenched its anti-refugee policies, in particular offshore processing.

In the national consultation's first session, refugee solicitor Edwina Lloyd and Sydney Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul began discussion among the 70 participants on the key issues confronting the refugee rights movement.

Lloyd, who has represented much maligned Indonesian "people smugglers", outlined the importance of countering the government and opposition's rhetoric. Contrary to the hysteria, Lloyd said most "people smugglers" received little pay, are often children, and are forced to look for any economic opportunities since environmental carnage has destroyed many fishing grounds.

Other discussion focused on the ALP's race to the bottom with the Coalition on anti-refugee policy; the serious dangers of impending forced deportations; the growing disaster of the detention system; the problem of ASIO security clearances preventing even those who have achieved refugee status from being freed; the importance of broadening networks especially with trade unions; and 2012 marking 20 years of mandatory detention in Australia.

The final session focused on campaign plans for 2012. The key motions adopted unanimously were:
* to support an Easter refugee rights convergence in Darwin (over April 6-9) and local actions during Easter,
* to organise large refugee rights rallies to mark "20 years of mandatory detention" around World Refugee Day (over the weekend of June 23-24),
* to organise a national gathering of refugee rights campaign groups in the second half of 2012,
* to hold nationally coordinated action around the ASIO security rejections some time in 2012, and
* to set up national working groups for the Darwin Easter convergence, fighting deportations, ASIO/security, unions and the National gathering.

On the same day as the consultation, the ALP conference voted 206 to 179 to support offshore processing.

The following day, 500 refugee campaigners marched on the conference and heard speakers including ACTU President Ged Kearney, Labor for Refugees' Shane Prince, the Edmund Rice Centre's Phil Glendenning and Children Out of Detention's Diane Hiles. The speakers condemned the ALP's ongoing lurch to the right on refugees.