Issues surrounding the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia have been the center of much controversy, debate and protest for a number of years now, and a dedicated group of ANU students are marching at those issues head-on.
At the March Rally for Refugees, the Refugee Action Committee’s ANU contingent marched proudly through the streets of Civic and into Garema Place brandishing banners, demanding that asylum seekers be permitted to stay in Australia.
A pause of the parade at a Northbourne Avenue intersection saw the group receive waving arms and car horns of approval from drivers-by, and later cheers of admiration as they marched into Garema Place to join the 3000 other people who had turned up to protest the current treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.
Australian policy is unique in that it imposes the mandatory detention of anyone seeking to enter Australia without a valid visa, and sends those who seek asylum in the country to detention centers in other countries. This policy has come under much attack both locally and on the global stage. Recent reports such as the Moss Review have revealed that sexual abuse and severe misconduct are rife in offshore detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island. Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees has also been criticised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Australian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
The Canberra Rally for Refugees was one of many that took place on Palm Sunday around the country, as well as in thirteen other countries around the world. Protesters banded together in a plea for change to Australia’s cruel policies towards refugees and asylum seekers that have come to Australia seeking a better life.
A lot of preparation went into ANU Refugee Action Committee’s participation in the rally, meeting the week before for a craft day to create their t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “stopping boats costs lives”.
One of the front-people for ANU Refugee Action Committee, Geraldine Fela, stated that it was important for the group to be at the rally to represent the “group of activists on campus committed to fighting the governments cruel refugee policy”.
“When asylum seekers come to Australia’s shores asking for help we believe they should be welcomed, not locked in onshore and offshore detention camps,” she said.
Refugee Action Committee coordinator, Dr John Minns, praised the Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees as the biggest demonstration against the policies of this government on refugees that this city has ever seen. At least three thousand people were there, a larger number per capita than any other city in Australia. Minns stated that this “illustrates the depth of feeling that, even after all these years of policies directed towards asylum seekers and refugees, still exists in our community, and thousands are prepared to fight on”.
However, Minns also stated that the campaign has major challenges ahead of it. In particular he said that “the Federal Labor Party national conference held at the end of July needs to take the depth of opposition to Labor’s policy into account and change course”.
But he also praised the diversity of RAC’s rally demonstration. Contingents from ANU and UC, school students, rainbow RAC (the LGBTIQ community), Labor for refugees, Unionists for refugees and the faith based working group of RAC all marched into Garema Place for the rally, with Minns stating that this “illustrated the strength they have in their own communities”.