refugee rights

Eighty people rallied in Dandenong, an outer Melbourne suburb, on February 11 against the planned deportation of Santharuban, a former member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who sought asylum in Australia after the defeat of the LTTE in 2009.

The LTTE fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. Former members of the movement continue to be "disappeared, detained, tortured, and harassed by the Sri Lankan security forces", according to a statement by the Tamil Refugee Council (TRC), which organised the rally.

A man waves over a roughly boarded fence, as a guard walks intimidatingly in front of it. A group of refugee protesters, sweltering in the hot sun in Leonora — a two day drive from Perth into the desert — wave back and yell “azadi”, the Farsi word for freedom.

I am one of the protesters and I am filming the protest.

One week earlier, just before the start of my second year at university, I opened an email from an activist group advertising a “Caravan of Compassion” to Leonora detention centre.

A few days later I was on the bus, barely knowing one other person.

Four years ago thousands of people lit candles in more than 750 locations across Australia to remember slain 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati and demand an end to Australia’s detention system.

It was the largest post-Howard government mobilisation for refugee rights to date.

At rallies across the country activists who had been in contact with people in Manus Island detention centre exposed the horrors of that night.

Around the country, on March 25 (Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar), people will be protesting about the federal government’s ongoing cruelty towards refugees.

They will be demanding an end to offshore detention and boat turn-backs and for asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru to be brought to our shores and offered permanent protection.

Many readers won’t need a reason to join the protests, but here are three new ones.

In his now infamous statement on immigration last month, Trump expressed his views clearly: He doesn’t want immigrants from “shithole” countries in Africa, Haiti and El Salvador — Black and Latina — to be let into the US.

On the other hand, he wants to encourage immigrants from predominantly white nations like Norway.

Around 500 refugees on Nauru have signed a petition to Australian Border Force demanding a timetable for refugee resettlement, to be immediately resettled in Australia pending any further resettlement options and to reunite families that have been separated.

About 130 refugees will fly to the US in the next month: 40 refugees flew from Port Moresby on January 23 and the remaining 90 refugees from Nauru are scheduled to fly in February.

More than 200 detainees at detention centres in Villawood in Sydney and Maribyrnong in Melbourne, were on hunger strike for five days from January 15–19 in protest at visitor restrictions announced by Border Force.

Beginning January 22, visitors will have to give five days’ notice of any visit and fill in a five-page form, with actual visits restricted to one-on-one.

Visitors will be required to provide 100 points of identification.

In 2011, in the days leading up to January 26, with Australian flags fluttering off cars and used as capes, accompanied by cartons of beer, sporting excellence as the pinnacle of Australian achievement and politicians lecturing the country on what it means to be a “proud Australian”, I left Perth.

Five activists who scaled the Sydney Opera House roof to unfurl banners reading "Australia: World Leaders in Cruelty #BringThemHere" and "Evacuate Manus" on November 9 pleaded guilty to trespass in the Downing Centre Local Court on December 20.

They were fined a total of $20,000.

WACA spokesperson Lily Matchett said: “We face court in Sydney today for protesting the inhumane treatment of refugees while the injustice on Manus Island continues to unfold.

The Manus Island tragedy is the latest in a series of systemic human rights abuses by successive Australian governments in recent decades.

But there is another story: one of courageous resistance in some of the most hostile situations imaginable — a resistance led by several hundred people on Manus Island who are still protesting, still demanding “freedom, nothing less than freedom”.

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