Hundreds gathered in Haymarket’s Belmore Park Sunday afternoon as part of the National Justice for Refugees Palm Sunday Rallies.
The rally petitioned for the release of Medevac refugees and all those transferred from Manus and Nauru and now being held in hotels and detention centres within Australia, as well as a focus on permanent visas and peaceful refugee relations.
Beginning proceedings was Gadigal, Dharug and Yuin elder Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, who delivered a Welcome to Country before advocating for unified support for refugees in Australia.
“We stand here in solidarity with all refugees here today,” Dixon-Grovenor told the masses of people.
“This is a disgrace and this is a shame.”
Presently, 240 refugees remain in limbo in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, many of which without any viable resettlement option. Thanush Selvarasa, a Medevac refugee released from Melbourne’s Park Hotel just two months ago, detailed the frustration felt while in detention.
“I came to Australia seeking asylum and safety, but eight years of my life was taken from me,” Selvarasa said.
“This is unacceptable.”
The protest also highlighted the Federal Government’s cultivation of a permanent underclass of increasingly-vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees, who live without adequate government support and security, on bridging and temporary protection visas that deny any sense of safety or reliability within Australia.
“With a temporary visa, I couldn’t find a good job here,” Selvarasa said.
“This has been a very big challenge for me – I’ve had to recover all of my life in less than six months.”
Members of activist group Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children. Photo: Daniel Lo Surdo
Resettled but not comfortable
More than 1200 of those sent to offshore detention centres in 2013 have been effectively resettled into the Australian community, yet are left without access to English classes, education, family reunion or Centrelink support. During the pandemic, JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments were also denied to refugees beginning life in Australia.
General Secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia (NSW/ACT Branch) Mark Northam called for an all-embracing cultural shift across the nation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe [Australia] has opportunities and I think we can move forward,” Northam said.
“The shift, however, would have to grow from the notion of an inclusive Australia; an Australia that has reflected on its past, and having learned from the past, has the confidence to implement the changes necessary to create a better, progressive, and more inclusive Australia.”
With 38,000 refugees currently being afforded only bridging or temporary visas, Centre Director and Principal Solicitor of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) Sarah Dale demanded reform for Australian refugee policy.
“My voice is that of a witness … to these policies that mean you may only ever be eligible for a temporary visa, without the ability to travel freely, have your children join you in safety, and the need to prove yourself every three to five years,” Dale said.
“It’s time we stand and call it for what it is: blatant cruelty.”
Following the speeches in Belmore Park, protests begun marching westbound along Broadway, concluding at Camperdown’s Victoria Park.
Palm Sunday rallies were held in every Australian capital city Sunday, with twelve other regional cities and towns staging protests against the mistreatment and injustices of refugees seeking entry to Australia.