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Hundreds gather in Sydney demanding justice for refugees

The rally happens annually at the start of Holy Week.

Photo credit: Amelia Raines

Activists gathered at Belmore Park on Sunday in support of the Justice for Refugees rally. 

The rally, organised by AMSA Crossing Borders and Palm Sunday Rally Sydney, demanded the release of Medevac refugees trapped in Australian hotels, as well as refugees in offshore detention centres. 

It also demanded that refugees in Australia be granted permanent visas. Organisers criticised temporary and bridging visas for creating barriers to accessing work and facilitating cycles of poverty. 

A diverse array of contingents attended the rally, including the National Tertiary Education Union, Labor for Refugees, Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Action Coalition, the Uniting Church, and Catholics for Refugees.

Aboriginal Elder Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor delivered the Welcome to Country, declaring: “We stand here in solidarity with all refugees.”

Aunty Shirley continued the Welcome to Country, making links between her experience as a member of the Stolen Generations and the plight of refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

“I’m sorry how your people are being treated,” she said. “They’re doing the same to you as they did to us.”

Margot Pearson, the Vice President of the Australian branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, criticised Australia’s active role in the refugee crisis due to its close military ties with the US. 

The crowd also heard from Thanush Selvasa, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee who had spent eight years in the detention system, moving between Manus Island, Christmas Island and Papua New Guinea before being moved to Melbourne. 

Selvasa spoke of the struggle of finding work on a temporary visa, referring to this as one of the many “challenges” of adjusting to life in Australia. “Eight years of my life [were] taken from me,” he said. 

Sarah Dale, a Principal Solicitor at Refugee Advice and Casework Services, spoke to her experience working in a number of refugee cases. She criticised the precarious nature of bridging visas, noting that 26,000 people are living on temporary visas, “despite being found to need Australia’s protection.”

Other speakers included Mark Northam, Secretary of the Independent Education Union of Australia for NSW, Amnesty International Coordinator Dr Graham Thom, and Uniting Church minister Reverend Tara Curlewis.

Protesters then marched down Broadway to Victoria Park, with chants including “Free, free the refugees!” and “Say it loud, say it clear: Refugees are welcome here.”

At Victoria Park, Renuga Inpakumar then spoke on behalf of the Tamil Contingent, demanding the government to “#ReleaseRajan”, a refugee who is battling leukemia and has been in detention for eleven years.

The rally concluded with Ian Rintoul thanking the crowd and demanding justice for detained refugees, adequate healthcare access, and for their immediate release.

“You can judge a government always by how they treat the most vulnerable in society,” Refugee Action Collective founding member Ian Rintoul told Honi during the protest. 

“We want all the people out of detention and out of the hotel prisons in Australia, we want all the people who are on Nauru and Manus Island brought to Australia where they can get care and protection.”

Honi also spoke to Thom, who noted the variety of ways to support the movement: “online petitions, Twitter actions, postcards to MPs… It does make a difference. We are setting people free… it’s the only way to change policy.”