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:
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
World Refugee Day – 22 June
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:
** 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