No Malaysian ‘Solution’ – End Mandatory Detention – rally and march, 13 May 2011

Refugee Action Collective banner leading march along Bourke Street

A few days after the Malaysian Bar Association issued a statement opposing the recently-announced refugee swap between the Malaysian and Australian governments (“Asylum seekers and refugees are not commodities to be traded” – full text given below), the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne called a protest at the GPO in Bourke Street, followed by a march down to the steps of Flinders Street Station:

[Prime Minister] Gillard’s plan to ship asylum seekers to squalid refugee camps in Malaysia is an attack on the right, under international law, to seek asylum regardless of how you arrive in a country. Her attacks on people smugglers [are] just a cover for her attacks on refugee rights and her desire to avoid any responsibility for looking after the world’s most persecuted people seeking protection.

The Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) opposes offshore processing but also calls for an end to mandatory detention on Australian shores as well.

We urge people to come out on Friday night and become a voice for refugee rights amongst a sea of attacks from both the Labor and Liberal parties, the media and the right.

The rally at the GPO was addressed by, amongst others, Sue Bolton and Liz Walsh from RAC-Vic:
Sue Bolton speaking
Liz Walsh speaking

and there was a gallant attempt to engage people in a chorus of “We are human beings …”:

Leading the rally in song

But just for once, and in spite of the wintry weather, the Mall was busy and loud, and the sound was lost in the hubbub. However, the action attracted much attention, both at the GPO and later at the Station, not to mention during the somewhat nerve-wracking march through the traffic in Swanston Street and across the Flinders Street intersection – this time without the benefit of a police escort.

There were more speakers on the steps of the Station, and more opportunities to engage with the public and get the message across with leaflets and direct contact, making this a successful action in spite of the weather and the relatively small number of activists.

Some more photos from the rally, march and end at Flinders Street Station:

RAC placards on the steps of the GPO

Placard - I Ain't Afraid of No Boats

Looking down from the  GPO

The march down Swanston Street

CLose up of placard - Close the Camps Down

In the peak-hour crowd at Flinders Street

RAC banner over heads of crowd

Looking down from the station steps

The press release from the Malaysian Bar:

Asylum seekers and refugees are not commodities to be traded

The Malaysian Bar is opposed to the recently-announced arrangement agreed to between the Governments of Malaysia and Australia. As we understand the arrangement, Australia will send to Malaysia 800 asylum seekers who have been detained by the Australian authorities. In return, Australia commits itself to accepting for resettlement 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia, over a period of four years.

The proposed exchange of asylum seekers for refugees between Malaysia and Australia is a misguided approach for dealing with a complex issue with serious ramifications.

It is irresponsible of Australia, as a State Party to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees adopted on 28 July 1951 (“Convention”), and its 1967 Protocol, to abdicate its international obligations under the Convention. Through this deal, Australia is consigning 800 people to a life of uncertainty and probable suffering, given that Malaysia is not a State Party to that Convention. Indeed, Malaysian law does not even recognise the concept of asylum seekers or refugees. Instead, it treats all undocumented persons as “illegal immigrants”, and subjects them to imprisonment and whipping.

It is untenable that Australia proposes to “pass the buck”, as it were, for the protection, care and support of these 800 asylum seekers, to Malaysia, when Malaysia has no comprehensive and organised system to provide assistance to asylum seekers or refugees. Even more astounding is the fact that Australia had reportedly rejected the use of an Australian-built processing facility in Nauru because that nation is not a signatory to the Convention, yet has no qualms about transferring asylum seekers to Malaysia.

As it is, Malaysia is already home to almost 100,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kuala Lumpur. None of these asylum seekers and refugees is provided with any material or financial help by the Malaysian Government for housing, jobs, education or health care. Because Malaysia has not acceded to the Convention, there are currently no legislative or administrative provisions in place for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers or refugees in the country. They exist in a shadow society in which they have no legal rights, and even less protection and security. They live in constant fear of the authorities – the police, immigration personnel and Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia (“RELA”) members. The Malaysian Bar reiterates its concern that the legal situation and conditions of life of asylum seekers and refugees and their families in Malaysia is degrading, demeaning and dehumanising, and wholly unacceptable to any civilised society.

Thus, the Australian Government is proposing an arrangement under which it has no assurance that the asylum seekers it sends to Malaysia will be treated in accordance with international human rights norms, and in compliance with the principles of the Convention.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the Australian and Malaysian Governments not to proceed with this arrangement. Instead, our Government must establish a proper and comprehensive framework for dealing with the situation of asylum seekers and refugees who are already in this country, and begin by according such persons due legal recognition. Malaysia must also demonstrate a proven track record of upholding human rights to the highest possible standards.

We wish to clarify that, contrary to the report titled “Pact gives refugees protection” published in today’s New Straits Times (“NST”), we did not say that the proposed plan is “generally a good one” or that “certain things needed to be done first”. Rather, our statement to NST asserted clearly that we are “stunned that Australia would have such an arrangement with Malaysia when Malaysia is not a State Party to the [Convention]”. Neither did we say that “the agreement was an opportunity for Malaysia to become a signatory to the [Convention]”; instead, we highlighted the urgent need for Malaysia to become a State Party to the Convention for the reasons outlined above.

Lim Chee Wee
President
Malaysian Bar

9 May 2011

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