Rally and March for World Refugee Day – 19 June 2011

March setting off from Museum, led by Red Brigade marching band

Media reports of the numbers taking part in the Melbourne rally and march for World Refugee Day under the banner of ‘Unite to End Mandatory Detention’ (see for example Melbourne’s Herald Sun) seem rather niggardly: as the accompanying video shows, the march along Brunswick Street took about four and a half minutes to pass a vantage spot, granted at a leisurely pace. Following the custom of previous years, the event began with speakers outside the Melbourne Museum, followed by a gentle walk to join the Emerge festival at the old Fitzroy Town Hall. Kurdish musicians played while the crowd gathered, and Wurrundjeri elder Auntie Diane Kerr began proceedings with a welcome to country. This year speakers at the Museum included Amara Hamid, an Eritrean refugee and member of the Management Committee of the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, Adam Bandt, Greens MHR for Melbourne, Julian Burnside, civil liberties lawyer and passionate refugee advocate, and Ramat Yousafi, an Afghan refugee who spent eight months in Curtin Detention Centre. After the march, which was led by the Red Brigade, there were two further speakers: Kumar Pathmanathan of the Tamil Refugee council, and Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project. MC was Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
For mainstream media reports on the day, see also ABC online.
The rally, which was endorsed by over 40 groups , was organised as last year by the Refugee Advocacy Network, ‘a broad coalition of organisations who have come together to advance a more just, humane approach to refugees and asylum seekers that respects their human rights’.

Refugee Advocacy Network Press Release

Mandatory detention is an inhumane policy that victimises vulnerable people who have committed no crime. It is time to end this unjust policy. In the name of protecting Australian borders, innocent individuals have been deprived of their right to freedom, separated from their families and endured severe mental distress.

The Refugee Advocacy Network is calling on all groups and individuals who support refugee rights to come together and send a clear message to the government: it’s time to end mandatory detention. Last year’s World Refugee Day march was supported by over 60 organisations. Over 4,000 people joined the march. We want our voice to be even louder this year as our appeals are continuing to fall on deaf ears.

The side effects of prolonged detention are blatantly obvious. Refugees are suffering from severe physical and psychological damage in appalling overcrowded conditions. They have no other choice but to live in these dehumanising conditions. Why else would a refugee take his own life rather than continue to stay in an Australian detention centre? At what cost are we willing to allow our Government to continue to indefinitely detain human beings?

Australia has the toughest mandatory detention regime in the Western developed world, yet people still continue to come to Australia. They continue to embark on this treacherous journey out of sheer desperation fleeing conflict, persecution and poverty in the hope of obtaining a better future for their family.

The Australian Government continues to deliberately ignore international criticism of mandatory detention of refugees. Our Government has an obligation to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of how or where they arrived and whether they arrived with or without a visa, as per the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The imposition of an indefinite prison sentence has resulted in detainees inflicting serious bodily harm and going on hunger strike. They are tired of listening to broken promises and so are we. Please join us on World Refugee Day 19 June in our bid to ‘unite to end mandatory detention.

In solidarity with the 7000 refugees who are detained in detention centres all over Australia, the Refugee Advocacy Network is inviting people to take to the streets of Melbourne this Sunday June 19th to ‘Unite against Mandatory Detention’. Mandatory detention is an indefinite prison sentence imposed on those who have committed no crime. Julian Burnside QC a prominent Human Rights and Refugee advocate will speak on Sunday. Julian will address the failures of the Government’s current refugee policy. Burnside commented,

“All Australians, and especially our politicians, should answer this: If you had fled the Taliban, if you got to Indonesia and if you faced 10 years living in the shadows waiting for some country to resettle you, what would you do? Would you wait there, with no right to get a job or send your kids to school, or would you make a dangerous dash for safety in Australia? What would you do? Think about this next time you hear someone say how we need to be tough on boat people”

Ramat Yousafi will also speak on Sunday. He more than anyone is aware of the crippling effects that prolonged detention can have on a person.

Yousafi, who is from the Hazara community, came to Australia from Afghanistan in the hope of finding protection and an opportunity to rebuild his life, but spent eight months locked up in Curtin detention centre in WA .

Yousafi argues that the Australian Government’s current policy is inhumane. “It’s my right to seek asylum and protect my life. Putting people behind barbed wire creates many problems – mental health issues, isolation from families. Afghanistan is still not safe. Just last week a prominent Hazara was killed. Last year, 50 Hazara were massacred”.

Also speaking will be Adam Bandt, Green Party MP who was recently heavily involved in persuading the Australian parliament to approve an inquiry into Australia’s mandatory detention network.

Other noted speakers are Amara Hamid of the Victorian Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Coalition, Kumar Pathmanathan of the Tamil Refugee Council who arrived in Australia as a refugee before the mandatory detention policy was introduced and finally Sister Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project.

Photos from the rally:

Kurdish musicians played before the speeches –

Musicians - guitar, violin and singer
Kurdish musicians playing before the speakers
Closeup of singer with Kurdish musicians

Auntie Diane Kerr

Wurrundjeri Elder Auntie Diane Kerr - Welcome to Country

View from across the road

From across the road - the rain held off ...

Faces and placards in the crowd –

Children and grown-ups listening to speakers

Worried faces of child and adults

Child with balloon - 'Welcome Refugees'

Children with placards calling for visas for their family

Placard reads - PM Gillard & Tony Abbott You make me ashamed to be Australian

Recycling ...

Placard with definitions etc regarding human rights

One of the stalls at the rally - the Socialist Party of Australia

The speakers –
Amara Hamid:
Amara Hamid speaking

Adam Bandt:
Adam Bandt speaking

Julian Burnside:
Julian Burnside speaking

Ramat Yousafi:
Ramat Yousafi speaking

Mark Riley and the Red Brigade rehearse some chants with the crowd before setting off, Pamela Curr looks on:
Mark Riley and the band on stage

In Gertrude Street:

Red Brigade leading the march down Gertrude Street

The march stretches out of sight down Brunswick Street:

Looking over heads of marchers down Brunswick Street

At the Town Hall:

Listening to speakers at Fitzroy Town Hall

Kumar Pathmanathan:
Kumar Pathmanathan speaking

Sister Brigid:

Sister Brigid speaking

Sister Brigid closeup

Child recording speaker on phone

Boy with placard - My sister need visa