The event was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC-Vic, http://www.rac-vic.org) and followed the same pattern as previous years: a rally with speakers at the Melbourne Museum followed by a march along Gertrude and Brunswick Streets, ending at the Fitzroy Town Hall to join the multicultural festival, and stopping on the way for more speakers. This year the focus was on the plight of Sri Lankan refugees, and one of the main speakers was Mr Nagamutha Wickiramasingham, who outlined the history of the conflict there, and put the case for Tamils held on Nauru. Other speakers were Hermann Wangai, representing West Papuan refugees, and David Manne from RILC. In view of the upcoming election it was thought appropriate that Prime Minister John Howard should take part, and extracts from some of his utterances were broadcast from the PA truck during the march. Also featured were a mobile prison/detention centre, and a blown-up photo of the new detention centre on Christmas Island.
From a media release for the event:
A large turnout is expected at today’s World Refugee Day rally to oppose the new multi-million dollar detention centre due to open later this year on remote Christmas Island.
Greens Senator Kerry Nettle will address the crowd, as will Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre coordinator David Manne, who recently visited refugees detained on Nauru. Refugees will then take to the stage to tell their own stories.
The rally will begin at 12pm outside Melbourne Museum (Cnr Nicholson and Victoria Sts, Carlton), before marching to join Multicultural Arts Victoria’s Emerge Festival at Fitzroy Town Hall.
Colourful and provocative installations, street theatre and personal stories will be used to celebrate the courage of refugees, and to highlight the cruelty of the Howard Government’s refugee policies.
The rally follows this week’s presentation in Federal Parliament of a petition of over 10,000 signatures calling on the Federal Government to halt construction of the new ‘Guantanamo Bay-style’ facility on Christmas Island. The petition was co-sponsored by Victoria’s Refugee Action Collective, the National Council of Churches, A Just Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
The petition and the rally serve as reminders to the major parties that Australians have not forgotten Tampa, and will not stand for a return to the politics of fear as another election approaches.
RAC spokesperson Tim Petterson said: “At today’s rally ordinary Australians will show their opposition to a new 500 million dollar detention centre, due to open later this year on remote Christmas Island.”
“Two years ago, at the very time the Howard Government announced it would release children from detention and make its refugee policies more humane, it was drawing up plans for this high-tech detention centre that includes a babies’ compound.”
“More than 10,000 people have signed a petition opposing this centre. The mandatory detention of refugees and asylum seekers is an affront to human dignity. We will continue to repeat the message for as long as it takes: refugees should be welcomed, not jailed.”