Walk for Justice for Refugees – Palm Sunday 13 April

Banner at head of march - Jusitice for Refugees

Growing community awareness of the reality of the current Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers has led to a revival of protest, with attendances at rallies not seen for years. Yesterday’s turnout in Melbourne was variously put at ‘as many as 3,000′ (ABC) to a rather extravagant ‘60,000 might be a conservative figure’ (post on the Walk for Justice Facebook page). Asked for my estimate by one of the organisers towards the end of the event I put the figure at ‘close to 10,000′, and there now seems to be fairly general agreement with this, at least on Facebook. Mainstream media, in so far as it reports the event at all, persists in putting it much lower. However that may be, it was an impressive demonstration.*

(The tag cloud doesn’t include items in the pre-2008 archive, so for anyone who might be interested or wants a reminder, here is a list of some earlier refugee rallies in Melbourne as reported here, including two on Palm Sunday:

2002
Rally and March for Refugees – 2 February
Rally for Refugees – Palm Sunday, 24 March
National Day of Action [for refugees] – 23 June
Tampa Day – Rally for Justice – 30 August

2003
World Refugee Day – 22 June

2004

Refugee Hope March – Palm Sunday, 4 April

World Refugee Day – 20 June
)

The format was conventional**: music to warm up, speakers, march, more speakers to wrap up. Music beforehand was provided by Celine Yap, aka Little Foot – folk, Kavisha Mazzella, and Victorian Trade Union Choir; other choirs were stationed at stages along the route of the march down Swanston Street to the gardens opposite the Arts Centre. Speakers included the Rev. Alistair McCrae, past president of the Uniting Church of Australia, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and three young asylum seekers, one of whom read a harrowing letter from a mother in detention… MC was Corinne Grant.

Views of the rally on the State Library lawns:

In the crowd at the State Library:

On the march:

At the end (we were not able to stay for the closing speeches, but left to the sound of Little Foot singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” …):

*Some media reports:

The Age

The Guardian
PressTV

** Though a new feature was the ringing of church bells following special services at the cathedrals and other churches – see the media release below:

City Church Bells to Ring out for Walkers on Palm Sunday

Across Australia in cities and regional towns Palm Sunday is being observed by Faith communities, Academics, School students and ordinary Australians who are deeply disturbed by the current treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

In Melbourne bells from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and St.Michael’s and St.Francis churches will ring out across the city as the WALK FOR JUSTICE FOR REFUGEES begins. The walk is organised by the Refugee Advocacy Network, working with a broad coalition of groups from across all ages, faiths and political persuasions.

Churchgoers from St. Paul’s, St. Patrick’s, Wesley Church and the Welsh Church will converge on the State Library to join the Walk. Church leaders, Professors and academics, Union leaders, School students, Community and Human Rights groups as well as politicians from the Greens and Labor parties will gather at the State Library. Choirs will serenade the walkers at the major intersections along Swanston Street.

Speaking on behalf of the Refugee Advocacy Network, Sister Brigid Arthur said: “We are walking for Justice for Refugees, because ‘stop the boats’ is not a policy worthy of Australia. It’s a cruel way of shirking our moral and legal obligations. People have a right to seek asylum in Australia regardless of how they travel here”.

Sister Brigid went on to say: “If we are genuinely concerned to stop people drowning at sea, then we must provide, safer ways for people to seek asylum in Australia. We must work closely with other countries not to stop the boats, but to protect vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution.”

Australians are calling for an end to the current policies. They are asking that we:

• Stop sending asylum seekers offshore and process claims for asylum here in Australia

• Close Australia’s detention centres

• Arrange for fair & speedy processing of Asylum Claims and Family Reunion

• Stop deporting people to places of danger

• Substantially increase our refugee quota

Walkers for Justice for Refugees will gather on Palm Sunday 13th April from 1.30pm for a 2.00 pm.
Start at the State Library, Cnr Swanston & La Trobe Streets Melbourne before setting off for Princes Bridge.

Contact Sister Brigid Arthur 0408101134
Marie Hapke 0409252673
Pamela Curr 0417517075

End Mandatory Detention – Rally and March 7 November 2010

Banner at head of march - End Mandatory Detention

Several hundred people took part in a rally and march organised by the Refugee Advocacy Network to demand an end to the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving by boat. MC Pamela Curr introduced a series of strong speakers, including a late addition to the list in the person of Malalai Joya, former member of the Parliament of Afghanistan now in exile:

Malalai Joya speaking

Her speech can be heard in full in this YouTube video:

Other speakers included Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young:

Sarah Hanson-Young

Amongst other things Senator Hanson-Young said we are not yet anywhere near bringing in a more humane approach to dealing with the needs of asylum seekers. Although the government has now admitted that it does detain children and has undertaken to start to release them ‘over time’, this was a good start, ‘but nowhere near where we need to be.’ She recalled how she came to politics in 2001 over this issue, and with the election of the labor government in 2007 had thought she needed to look for another focus: ‘But since 2007 we have learned pretty quickly that promises are broken.’
She referred to the recent visit of Opposition leader Tony Abbot to Adelaide ‘to whip up fear around having a detention facility that would house families in the Adelaide hills.’ She did not believe there should be mandatory detention at all, ‘but I also do not believe that whipping up fear around the idea of having asylum
seekers in the Adelaide hills … is a responsible thing for a leader to do.’ It was time to take the politics out of it [this issue], there needed to be a consensus of all parties ‘that making politics out of the lives of vulnerable people is not right, it shouldn’t bring you votes, and we all should be a bit bigger than that…’

Next was Michele O’Neil, State Secretary, TCFUA – a union much involved with migrant women in particular:

Michele O'Neil

‘The union that I represent has a proud history of having within its ranks , within its membership, many many people that arrived in Australia as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.’ But it was not just the TCFUA which benefitted from this diversity, rather the whole country, ‘because the workers of Australia are a migrant people who have joined with our Indigenous population to create the land we have today.’ It was therefore an extraordinary thing that we should be having this debate about how to treat current arrivals when so many of our ancestors, families and neighbours arrived in similar ways. She emphasised the need for a total ban on mandatory detention, notr piecemeal changes to policy. She acknowledged the positive step of the recent announcement about releasing children, but stressed that it was not due to take effect immediately, but by the middle of 2011, and applied only to ‘the majority’. What was there to be fearful of that it should take so long? And what did it mean to say ‘the majority’ rather than all? And the terms under which these people were to be released did not allow them to work, move freely, or choose where to live. ‘This is not living in the community in an normal sense,’ not even a return to the position pre-1993. ‘It is still a very small change to what is a fundamentally unjust and unfair system.’ And why was it needed? What was
driving the fear, paranoia and xenophobia? She read some of the facts regarding the numbers seeking asylum in Australia compared to the rest of the world, eg that in 2009 Australia received 0.6% of asylum seekers worldwide; that of 377,160 applications in 44 industrialised countries Australia received only 6170, which was 1.6%. So ‘this fear is based on inaccurate information and myth …. people that want to divide the people of this country instead of bringing us together.’ And this is also, this is an issue which she and her union care about and speak about: ‘We care about it because it is about the same fundamental issues – if you care about fighting for justice, if you care about people’s rights, if you care about the right for people in the workplace to be treated with dignity and respect and to be safe, you have to care about how it is that we treat people who are fleeing some of the worst and most terrible situations that you can imagine, looking for refuge, looking for asylum, who arrive in our land and who we then lock up…’

Pamela Curr read a message from Tamil refugees still detained in Indonesia (see media release from the support group RISE) in a centre paid for by Australian taxpayers (this message is posted as MP3 on Melbourne Indymedia), before introducing Malalai Joya – see above – who was followed by Hong Lim, State Labor MP and representative at the rally of the Indo-Chinese community:

Hong Lim speaking

He had come to Australia as a refugee from Cambodia 40 years ago ‘at a time when everybody was so caring and sharing, but 40 years later I must say that some people will try to break that tradition.’ He referred to the post-WWII arrival of more than one million refugees – ‘ask the Jewish community here’ – and the generosity of Austrlians in raising proportionately more than seven times as much in donations to help Cambodian refugees than the British at the time. But now in BRitain there are more than 80,000 asylum seekers and refugees, ‘and here we 4000 and some people jumping up and down complaining’ with talk of an ‘invasion’. He suggested people should look at Springvale, Richmond and Footscray ‘to see what the
Indo-Chinese [refugees] have proven themselves’. They contribute significantly to the economy and are the link to China, Vietnam and so on. We could not allow politicians to poison our minds, our traditions, our customs, our honour any more ‘We must fight them every inch of the way, because they are wrong. They are wrong.’

Brian Walters SC, Greens candidate for the seat of Melbourne, was the last of the speakers before the march:

Brian Walters speaking

He began his address with the words ‘My fellow boat people’ and the opening words of the national
anthem: ‘Australians all let us rejoice, for we are young and [pause] free…’ This was one of the values we proclaim, a love for freedom ‘and when people take is at our word, fleeing unimaginable persecution, and come here asking for our help … we lock them up in mental illness factories in remote places behind razor
wire.’ We also value the rule of law, but have decided that it does not apply to whole areas of the country – the excised regions. He was scornful of those who talk about ‘border protection’ – ‘as if people coming wanting the protection of our borders threaten [them].’ ‘When people come across the sea they bring with
them boundless riches that we can share. They enrich our community and what a great day it will be when we end this evil misery of mandatory detention, which is such a stain on our nation [applause]. And then we can really sing that we can “advance Australia fair”‘.

There followed a march down Swanston Street to Federation Square:

Gilios speaking at Federation Square

Gilios, himself a West Papuan refugee, spoke of the work of RISE, an organisation supporting Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, but first asking for a minute’s silence in memory of a young member of his community who had been killed in a car accident a few days before….

Sister Brigid speaking

Last speaker was Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, who described her visits to young Hazaras in the little-known Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre and families in the Maribyrnong Detention Centre. Her address, which was very compelling, is available as an MP3 on Melbourne Indymedia.

The rally ended with an emphatic statement of the core demand, followed by a lineup of banners:

Lineup on steps at Federation Square

Refugees – ‘What would you do in their shoes?’ – 9 August 2010

Students lined up on GPO steps at end of event

That was the question put by students from Kilbreda College, Mentone, today in an action organised by the Refugee Action Network on the steps of the old GPO in Bourke Street. They mimed the arrival of a boatload of asylum seekers, followed by their reception, processing and eventual fate. At the same time, volunteers from the ASRC and others handed out fact sheets to passers-by, and Pamela Curr went on to recount some recent case histories and set out some facts to counter the current widespread misinformation in the community. The action attracted a good deal of attention from the midday crowds, not to mention at least three TV crews …

Placards and shoes lined up on steps of GPO

Students miming the arrival of a boat with asylum seekers

The arrival of a boat ...

Reception - 'We're full'. 'Terrorists' ...

They meet a hostile reception

Some are welcomed, others marked for return

Some are welcomed, others marked for return

Some get visas while others are held in detention

Some get visas while others are held in detention

Placard with statisics

Some of the facts on display

Signpost with keywords - visa, detention, family, safety etc

Some of the keywords

Here is the media release:

The People of Melbourne are invited to join with Year 8 students, refugee advocates, church groups, workers and community group in an installation

on the steps of the Old GPO in Bourke Street, Melbourne, at 12 midday today Monday 9 August 2010.

The Students will show us in a visual presentation how hard it is to find refuge from persecution for asylum seekers. Stories from behind the bars and wires of Australian detention centres will be read out so that Australians can hear the truth about the lives of asylum seekers and the reasons why they come seeking our protection.

Hundreds of shoes will be laid during this demonstration as a reminder of what it is to walk in the shoes of others. This action has been organized by the REFUGEE ACTION NETWORK at a time when the politicians are engaged in the politics of fear.

We will be reminding people of the facts-

that our nation of migrants has been built on and strengthened by the successive waves of people who have come to our shores to settle both by choice and out of need.

that Australia takes less than 1% of the worlds asylum seekers.

that since 1976 when the first Vietnamese boat arrived that an average of 677 people per year have arrived by boat- that this never was nor is a “flood”.

“Most Australians are lucky enough to have never known persecution and fear- we ask them to consider ‘what would you do in their shoes’ and to remember that the history of Australia is of people arriving and settling from all over the world to enrich our country.” says Pamela Curr, a member of the Refugee Action Network.

See further:

http://www.asrc.org.au/

http://www.asrc.org.au/learn-more/

World Refugee Day rally and march – 20 June 2010

'Refugees are Welcome' - rally at State Library

As the country heads for another election, and both main parties seem to be reverting to the xenophobia of the 2001 campaign – the infamous ‘Tampa election’ – an extensive coalition of groups both political and non-political combined to organise an emphatic protest in Melbourne at the start of Refugee Week. Two rallies, one at the State Library, and a second at the Melbourne Museum, were followed by what has become the traditional march through Fitzroy to the Fitzroy Town Hall to join the annual celebration of diversity, the Emerge Festival. At the State Library the main speaker, apart from MC Sue Bolton, was Nazeem Hussain (from Salam Café and Fear of a Brown Planet), while at the Museum Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry called for an end to what he called ‘bipartisan bullying’. (See report of the event by Andra Jackson in The Age: Take the politics out, says professor). There were further speeches at the Town Hall, including a harrowing account of experiences in Sri Lanka from a Tamil refugee (see article referred to above) and contributions from a representative of the Hazara community, a Somali member of the newly-formed advocacy group RISE (Refugees Survivors and Ex-Detainees – http://riserefugee.org/, and long-time refugee activist Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
It would have been pleasing to say that the threatened rain held off, but it didn’t, as some of the pictures below may show…

See also:

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/newsevents/rwevents_vic.html
https://sites.google.com/site/worldrefugeedaymelbourne/

Photos from the rallies and march, mostly self-explanatory:

Panels showing lists of supporting groups and organisations

MC Sue Bolton speaking

Sue Bolton was MC at the State Library

Display of variously coloured banners

Banner of AWU, one of many unions represented

Nazeem calling for a 'Brown Australia' policy...

On the march from the State Library to the Museum:

Head of march in LaTrobe Street

Banner of Union of Australian Women

One of several banners from the Refugee Action Collective

'War creates refugees' - RAC banner

One of several banners from the Socialist Alternative

Banner - 'Justice for Climate Refugees'

See next image for the reverse of this banner

'Open the Border - Close the Coal Mines' - reverse of preceding

Meanwhile, at the Museum:

Large letters spelling out 'Rember Tampa' against fence

'Red Brigade' marching band playing for the rally

The band leads the way to meet the approaching marchers

As the marchers from the State Library approach, the Red Brigade set off to meet them

Meeting of the two groups

Part of the combined crowd at the Museum

Patrick McGorry speaking

On the march again, this time heading for the Fitzroy Town Hall, via Nicholson Street, Gertrude Street, and Brunswick Street:

Band and head banner in Nicholson Street

Banner of Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project

Banner of Australian Jewish Democratic Society

Another union banner, the LHMU

Various banners, marchers with dog

Band leading up Brunswick Street

Arriving at Fitzroy Town Hall:

Marchers arriving at Fitzroy Town Hall

Part of crowd at Fitzroy Town Hall

Aboriginal elder Robbie Thorpe tends sacred fire on steps of Town Hall

Aboriginal Elder Robbie Thorpe tends sacred fire on steps of Town Hall

The final speakers:

Speaker for Hazara refugees

Speaker for Hazara refugees

Speaker for Tamil refugees

Speaker for Tamil refugees

Speaker from RISE

Somali refugee speaking for RISE

Pamela Curr

Pamela Curr, speaking for all