About 500 people rallied in Melbourne on August 13 to put the Liberal and Labor parties on notice that the refugee rights movement is rebuilding, and a growing number of people are willing to stand up for refugees.
The Refugee Action Collective organised the protest under the slogan of “Stand up for Refugees” in a bid to have the treatment of asylum seekers recognized as a human rights issue.
There were contingents of Greens, socialists and the Community Public Sector Union. Protesters chanted, “East Timor no solution, let the refugees in”.
Greens candidate for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, told the rally that the federal election campaign of the two major parties was about “who can be the toughest and the harshest” towards asylum seekers. He said, “it’s time to end the fear, and end the hysteria” about asylum seekers arriving by boat.
Tamil community representative and refugee, Gawreharan, also addressed the rally. He arrived in Australia in 1996, not out of choice, but because he had no other option but to flee his home country to save his life.
Gawreharan was arrested in Sri Lanka, just for being a Tamil. He was just 17 years’ old when he was arrested and accused of being a Tamil Tiger. He was forced under threat of death to sign a false confession in a language that he did not understand.
It was this experience that forced Gawreharan to flee Sri Lanka.
Gawreharan was held in a detention centre in Maribyrnong for two months before being granted refugee status. “Many asylum seekers are being treated this way”, he said.
There are “no options, no future for us”, he said. Many of these people “are crying out for help”. More than 40,000 Tamils were killed in 2009 and many are fleeing their war-torn country just to survive.
Gawreharan said that the political debate over refugees “is creating racial hatred between people”.
Sharon Firebrace, Aboriginal activist and Socialist Alliance Victorian Senate candidate said the government and Coalition opposition are “racist at heart” and that asylum seekers “should not be treated as prisoners. It is inhumane.”
“Socialist Alliance calls for an end to mandatory detention, the closure of the detention centres and instead to process asylum seekers either in the community or else in migrant hostels where there is freedom of movement, as used to happen before the 1990s.”