Vigils light the dark against cruelty

July 22, 2017
The Brisbane vigil. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Candles were firmly held against the darkness of Australia’s cruel bipartisan refugee policy on July 19.

Initiated by GetUp! and supported by numerous refugee rights organisations, the vigils drew thousands of people to more than 50 locations across Australia from big cities to small country towns.

The vigils marked four years since then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that anyone who came seeking asylum in Australia via boat would never be resettled in Australia.

The vigils called on the government to evacuate the camps on Manus Island and Nauru immediately, after years of human rights violations, including child abuse, sexual assault and medical neglect.

Already the detention system has led to the deaths of young men, such as Reza Berati, who was beaten to death by guards, Hamid Khazaei and Faysal Ishak Ahmed from medical neglect, and Omid Masoumali who set himself on fire saying “I cannot take it anymore.”

Amnesty International screened a short film at the vigils that showed a timeline of the past four years.

Another film, shot by Kurdish asylum seeker and journalist Behrouz Boochani, gave voice to men in Manus Island detention centre. One man said: “This place ... we call hell” and another wished he could “stand beside my mother and cook for her”.

Pertinent to the night, a man said: “My message is for the people who support us in this hard situation. You are the people that give us hope.”

After the vigils, Behrouz said on Facebook: “Last night the refugees in Manus felt hope that they could get freedom while they were receiving so many supportive messages from Australian people. They felt hope in a situation that is otherwise trying to pressure them more and more.”

Ravi, a poet and artist who was detained in Nauru detention centre until 2015, said on Facebook: “Am feeling happy while I saw the pictures and videos that friends are sharing from the vigils tonight all around in Australia. I really want to say thanks to my brothers and sisters and beautiful mothers and fathers who are holding the candles and saying welcome refugees, and reading statements behalf of our friends and kids who [have been] held [for the] past four years and more in these human dumping grounds. Once again I see the humanity all around this country and thanks for all the organisations and GetUp!.”

US immigration officials have left Manus Island as its worldwide quota for refugee intakes for the year has been filled, without a single person on Manus Island or Nauru being offered protection in the US.

The Australian government has begun turning off the water in Manus Island detention centre, leaving the men stranded and living in fear. The calls to bring them here need to echo louder than ever at the upcoming October mobilisations, coinciding with the closure date for the Manus Island detention centre.

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