April 13, 2014
People march in Melbourne CBD as part of the Walk for Justice for Refugees rally. Photo: Justin McManus
A cluster of choir singers serenaded Sunday city-goers in Melbourne as an enticement to join their rally in support of asylum seekers.
But if that wasn’t enough to get their attention, bells atop four CBD churches were set to simultaneously ring out to mark the beginning of the protest.
A mixed bag of Palm Sunday church-goers joined hundreds of families, union members, activists and community groups for the Walk for Justice for Refugees rally, which kicked off at 2pm outside the State Library for a march stretching past Federation Square.
Georgie Stubbs, from Mornington, joined a church service on Palm Sunday in support of asylum seekers before heading to the rally.
“Whether you believe in Jesus or not, he’s been an amazing example on how to live, and love, and care for others,” she said.
“The least we can do in Australia is love and care for others, especially those who are fleeing for their lives.”
Similar marches are occurring in all major cities, from Perth to Sydney, Brisbane to Adelaide.
Sister Brigid Arthur, of Albert Park’s Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, said the current treatment of asylum seekers is cruel and neglects Australia’s moral and legal responsibilities.
‘‘People have a right to seek asylum in Australia, regardless of how they travel here,’’ she said.
‘‘We must work closely with other countries not to stop the boats, but to protect vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution.’’
The rally heard from several asylum seekers and refugees, including a letter read out from a young mother in detention.
‘‘Sometimes I think it will be easier to die,’’ she wrote.
A young Kurdish woman from Iran also spoke about the struggles of living on a bridging visa in Australia for the past nine months because she is unable to work or go to school.
‘‘We are depressed. We feel we’re useless for ourselves and society, ’’ she told the crowd, holding back tears.
‘‘Our lives are meaningless. We don’t know how long we should live like this. … In every single moment of this life we are dying.’’
Many supporters in the crowd, which grew from an estimated several hundred people to several thousand, held up banners and signs.
One placard stated, ‘‘No one is illegal’’, while another stated, ‘‘Stop locking up children’’.
The march has been organised by Refugee Advocacy Network and is supported by more than 40 groups, including the Greens, several churches and academics.
It comes after Papua New Guinea’s troubled Manus Island detention camp saw 62 people injured in February riots, which ended in the death of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati.
Other asylum seekers have claimed Mr Barati was thrown off a balcony and beaten to death, but no one has been arrested over the incident.
The fallout over the death has continued to cause outrage among community groups and refugee advocates.
Earlier on Palm Sunday, a special prayer service was held in support of refugees at St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
One prayer told how Jesus Christ was seeking safe passage, a refugee searching for a home, as dozens at the service lit candles.
Bishop Philip Huggins told the congregation that Jesus also identified with those who are in need, who are vulnerable, who are suffering.
Our lives are enriched by welcoming strangers like asylum seekers, he said.
“Our policies are driving people crazy. Intentionally, systematically, the asylum seekers are being driven crazy,” he said.
“This must change.”