Hundreds of protesters gathered outside of State Library Victoria on July 22 to demand permanent visas for refugees.
The rally was part of a national action to mark 10 years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: “As of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.”
Since then, refugees have suffered the consequences of this inhumane policy: after being forced to flee their homelands, they have been forced into detention and then forced to live in limbo on temporary visas.
“I was born as a refugee; I grew up as a refugee; I don’t want to die a refugee,” Prashanth Kumarvel told the protest. Kumarvel, a nurse, who is on a bridging visa, came to Australia by boat in hopes of “a better life … and a better future”. “When will we have … peace? When will we have a country to call home?”
Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice criticised Labor which “said people were going to be moved off temporary visas. A year later, it hasn’t happened”. Rice called for a Royal Commission into onshore and offshore detention to “unpack this dark, brutal history in Australia” and put an end to it.
Reeta Arulruban, the mother of Dixtan, a refugee who was detained in Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) and has been threatened with deportation, expressed solidarity to other refugees. “We are all here because we need permanent protection; I am here for all the refugees left behind; I am also here for my son.”
Farhad Bandesh, artist, musician and refugee, who was held for six years on Manus Island, then in the Mantra hotel-prison and MITA, said: “We are not criminals. We are people. We are innocent. We are like other people.
“I believe the Australian people … don’t want this policy. They don’t want this history. This is a dark history, for all Australian[s]; I am one of them … I am paying tax … to kill people in detention. I hate that.”
Refugee Action Collective Victoria (RAC) activist Lieke Janssen talked about Operation Sovereign Borders and the government’s “damaging” language which it uses to perpetuate the myth that refugees are “dangerous”. “There is no danger that’s coming to our borders. There are people who escaped danger … who need protection from danger.”
Activists brought attention to the 14,000 refugees stuck in Indonesia. One told Green Left: “We can’t forget about the fact that one of the largest detention camps in Indonesia is currently being funded by the Australian government.”
RAC organised the protest which was endorsed by the Greens, Amnesty International and Iranian Women’s Association among others.