refugee rights

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.

It’s an unlikely scenario, but former refugee and now human rights advocate Riz Wakil says he’s even willing to take a surfing lesson from Tony Abbott if that means he has the chance to knock some sense into the Coalition leader’s head about his racist refugee policies.

On June 15, GetUp! won a charity auction prize — a surfing lesson with Abbott –— and donated it to Wakil, who arrived on Ashmore Reef in 1999 and was held in Curtin detention centre for nine months. Now a permanent resident, he runs a printery.

Jeff Carrol, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) seafarer, was on the Front Puffin when the burnt bodies of Afghan refugees from Ashmore Reef were hauled onboard a year ago.

On June 7, he was with the Tamil refugees from the Oceanic Viking in the union rooms as they received the donations mining and maritime unions pledged to them last year at the height of the controversy.

Ruth Ratcliffe works in the community sector in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. She is an activist in the Adelaide climate action movement and has supported many other campaigns for social justice including the campaign against the racist Northern Territory intervention. Below she outlines why she is standing for the Socialist Alliance for the South Australian senate.

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Andrew John Brent is an activist with Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH). He recently visited Villawood dentention centre to speak with Leela, a queer Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka. This is his story. More information on the campaign to free queer refugees can be found at the CAAH website.

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Late last year Western Australian artist Nathalie Haymann exhibited thirty-six artworks based on the book "A Certain Maritime Incident — the Sinking of the SIEVX" in Fremantle. The showing commemorated the 2001 sinking of a refugee boat off the coast of Australia — a crime against humanity about which many controversial questions still swirl.

The entire exhibition is now available for viewing at www.sinkingofsievxpaintings.com.

Green Left Weekly’s Niko Leka spoke to refugee advocate Saradha Nathan. Last year, Nathan travelled to Indonesia with other refugee advocates, to inspect conditions in Australian-funded detention centres there and take aid and visa application forms to the Tamils stranded on the boat at Merak.

She spoke about the fate of those refugees, some of who are now in detention, and some who recently tried again to come to Australia — with fatal consequences.

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Thousands of people are expected to join the World Refugee Day rallies around Australia between June 19 and June 26.

In Melbourne, the rally - to be held on Sunday June 20 - has the theme “Not another Tampa election”.

Patrick McGorry, Australian of the Year will speak at the Museum Square to refugees, asylum seekers, human rights agency staff and volunteers, refugee advocates and activists before the marchers move off to the EMERGE FESTIVAL at Fitzroy Town Hall.

On May 30, big protests were held in most Australian capital cities against recent killings in the Afghan province of Behsud. Fifteen hundred people rallied in Sydney and up to 400 in Melbourne.

Initially, the protest was to demand the Australian government stop deporting Hazara asylum seekers to Afghanistan, because the situation is not safe for the Hazara ethnic minority.

However, when news broke that some Hazara had been massacred by Afghan Pashtun nomads in the province of Behsud, the protest’s focus shifted to calling for international support for the Hazara.

Refugee advocates have launched the “Bring them home, minister Evans!” campaign in response to the news that 92-year-old Irene Joseph, deported to Sri Lanka with her 68-year-old son on March 5, had collapsed and almost died in the village where they now live.

Joseph is permanent resident of Australia and had lived here since 1979. In 1996, when she re-entered Australia after a holiday, she was mistakenly issued with a temporary visa.

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