About 1000 protesters marched through the streets of Melbourne on September 21, in opposition to the Coalition government’s attacks on refugees. It was the first refugee rights rally since the election of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The rally heard from several speakers, including Bishop Philip Huggins, from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, Ingrid Stitt from the Australian Services Union, Janet Rice, newly elected Greens Senator for Victoria, and Karen Jones from the Refugee Action Collective.
Protesters marched to the Bourke Street Mall crossing, and held a sit-down protest before continuing to the Liberal Party headquarters.
Asil Hadi, a 16-year-old Iraqi refugee, addressed the crowd at the end of the march. Hadi told the story of how her family had been forced to flee Iraq for Syria, and finally to Australia. She also challenged the myth of so-called "economic refugees".
She said: “To the government who says people like us are economic refugees, I say to them, consider if this happened to you and your family. Most refugees are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan. They are leaving their country not for economic reasons, they come seeking safety … My story is nothing compared to other people … they actually have lost their loved ones … so when they come here they come seeking safety. You can find money anywhere, but you can’t find safety. Safety is really hard to find.”
Lucy Jarvis-Dodd and Caitlin Woodward, two 16-year-old Princes Hill students who helped form Secondary Students for Refugee Rights also spoke. They gave an inspiring speech challenging Abbott’s appeal to racism, the role of the media, and the importance of young people speaking up for themselves.
Secondary Students for Refugee Rights was formed in response to the former Kevin Rudd ALP government’s deal to resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea. The group is holding a public meeting for high school students on October 3 at 1pm at Ross House in Melbourne. Click here for more information.