As more than 3000 people rallied in Melbourne’s CBD on November 5 to protest against the federal government’s refugee policies, about 200 people gathered in the far northern suburb of Eltham in support of a group of Syrian refugees who will be resettled in the area in the coming weeks.
Up to 120 refugees — part of the one-off humanitarian intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees announced by the federal government last September — will be housed in an disused section of an aged care facility in Eltham. Catholic Care, which operates the facility, said priority would be given to women and children who would be housed separately from the aged residents.
Supporters of the refugees held signs saying "welcome refugees" as they marched through Eltham and rallied outside the aged care facility.
The rally was held to counter a “Battle for Eltham” rally, organised by Nick Folkes and his far-right Islamophobic Party for Freedom. Members of Reclaim Australia and the True Blue Crew were bussed in from around the country to oppose the arrival of the refugees.
Police on horseback and riot police kept the two groups separate.
The Welcome to Eltham group spray-painted footpaths in the area with more than 8000 butterflies, a symbol to welcome the refugees to the area. The group’s Gillian Essex told the ABC: "In the 1980s in Eltham, the Eltham Copper Butterfly was an endangered species and the community rallied together successfully to save it.
"Now we're rallying together again from outside people who are coming in to protest to try to tell us who we should be accepting in our community.
"It's really up to us and we are really looking forward to welcoming these refugees."
"Once they do understand some of the facts around how the project's going to operate, the support that's being offered the sorts of families that will be coming into the accommodation, a lot of peoples' fear and anxiety has diminished."