A wave of rallies and marches commemorating World Refugee Week has begun to sweep across Australia.
On Sunday June 20, people came from all over Melbourne as well as Ballarat, Geelong and other regional areas for the rally, indicating that refugee rights networks are being re-established. Given the rain, organisers were happy with the size of the rally, between 1000-2000. This has been the biggest protest in support of refugees for several years.
Rallies also took place in Canberra, Perth (200) and Brisbane (300) over the weekend.
Tamil refugee Arun Mylvaganam described his experiences. In 1995 he was 11 when he saw the bombing of his school in Jaffna by the Sri Lankan Arma and the killing of 72 Tamil school children and th wounding of more than 200. "On that day, my 14-yearold borther was cut into half and murdered in cold blood by the Sri Lankan army," he said. That same day, he saw his close friend "hanging from the tamarind tree by his intestins."
In 1997, Mylvaganam came to Australia and spent three months in detention. He was only 13 at the time, without any family members with him. The impact of his experiences in Sri Lanka and the experience of detention resulted in him being treated for severe depression in 2000.
Mylvaganam describes the situation for Tamils in Sr Lanka today as being worse than in 1995.
Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry also addressed the rally, describing the situation of the major parties' attacks on refugees as a situation of bipartisan bullying. McGorry founded a system of car for refugees who were the victims of torture and trauma in the late 1980s.
Other speakers included Deb James, general secretary of the Victorian Independent Education Union, Narwal Ali, Somalian refugee and RISE spokesperson, and Zamera Shariffie, Afghan refugee and Australia Hazara Council spokesperson.
Sue Bolton, one of the organisers of Melbourne's World Refugee Day Rally said that this was the first such march and rally in several years.
Fifty-nine groups endorsed the rally, including Amnesty International, churches, refugee communities, refugee advocacy groups, RISE (Refugees , Survivors and Ex-Detainees), Researchers for Asylum Seekers and political parties including, The Greens, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and Labor for Refugees.
"The rally achieved our aim, which was to demonstrate that there is substantial community support for refugees, and use that support to win people away from the hardline racist and cruel approaches to refugees that are being promoted by Tony Abbot, Kevin Rudd and the Murdoch empire," said Bolton
“Each new announcement on refugees from Abbott and the Rudd government has been harsher than the last. It’s as if the two major parties are having an auction on harsh policies towards refugees."
The rally’s message was that “Refugees are Welcome in Australia” and that Australians do not want another Tampa election, Bolton added.
"Having watched the way the major parties have manipulated public opinion towards refugees, first under the Howard government and now under the Rudd government, I can understand the process by which the the Nazi party in Germanay created fear of Jews, Roms and Communists to justify the most cruel and barbaric acts.
"We need to arrest this process by creating a wave of public support for refugees to push back these racist attitudes which break down social solidarity," she said.
The Refugee Advocacy Network which organised the rally is considering another action around the anniversary of the Tampa, on August 26.
A Sydney rally and march will be held on Saturday June 26, 1pm at Sydney Town Hall. A broad colition of groups is also demanding "Say No to another Tampa election; No visa freeze; and: Close the detention centres."