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Asylum outrage sparks community campaigns

At a Sydney rally for refugees. Photo: Newtown Graffiti

Community groups advocating a more compassionate approach to asylum seeker policy have reported large increases in membership and engagement.

The renewed interest is thought to be in response to recent media coverage highlighting the living conditions of asylum seekers at offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru. Reported controversies include the confiscation of glasses, hearing aids and prosthetics from asylum seekers and the rationing of sanitary items to female refugees.

Inner Sydney refugee support services share the view that community-based processing is preferable to the current policy of the Australian Government.

Andrew Williams, spokesperson for the Refugee Council of Australia, said the government’s current asylum seeker policy is not addressing the desperate need to provide refugee protection for those who have no other option but to seek asylum by boat.

“Tragically, family members of refugees in Australia have been seriously harmed or killed in refugee situations overseas, or have died while travelling by boat, because they lacked access to safer pathways.” Mr Williams said.

“The practice of offshore processing must end and the Australian Government must increase the focus on building regional cooperation on refugee protection.”

In response to many of the concerns voiced by the Refugee Council, grassroots organisations have focused on lobbying the government through large rallies, social media campaigns and non-traditional means including sending tampons and pads to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who announced the end of weekly briefings on boats.

Clo Schofield, organiser for the Refugee Action Coalition, told City News the government’s current policies on asylum seekers are racist and criminal under international law.

“Offshore detention centres have shocking conditions. Nauru is a tent city with insufficient medical capacities, while Manus Island in 2013 had to be evacuated of women and children due to malaria risk,” she said.

The Refugee Action Coalition also advocates community processing, which would settle asylum seekers into communities until their refugee status has been assessed and confirmed.

Fahad Ali, member of Students Thinking Outside Borders, agreed this was the most compassionate means of welcoming refugees into our community.

“Australia is faced with a crisis; not one of border security, but one of compassion,” he said.

“There has been one apology in Australia’s history. Let us hope we can steer clear of a having to give a second.”

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