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‘We will keep fighting and protesting until every refugee is free’: Protesters rally at Town Hall

Hundreds of protestors gathered at Town Hall on 24 July to advocate for more humane treatment of refugees.

 Organised by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), the rally was endorsed by various groups, including the Australian Rohingya Women’s Development Association, Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, Doctors for Refugees, Grandmothers Against Detention NSW, House of Welcome, Independent Education Union NSW, Labor for Refugees, Mums for Refugees, National Tertiary Education Union NSW, Tamil Refugee Council, and Young Labor Left NSW. 

David Shoebridge, Greens Senator for NSW, described the government’s ongoing practice of boat turnbacks “brutal” and called for its end. 

“The task [for Parliament] is to end all temporary protection visas, to end all offshore processing, to not turn around another boat and for this country to open its arms to the world’s refugees,” he said.

This was echoed by Vice President of the Australian Young Labor Party, Cian Galea, who emphasised the Labor Party’s complicitly in furthering the plight of refugees in Australia. 

Galea called upon the government to convert Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs) to Permanent Residency Visas for the thousands of refugees still fraught with an uncertain legal status.

Australian Refugees in Limbo activist Ali Nayyef highlighted the personal stories of many refugees who have spent ten years in Australia waiting for their permanent residency visas to be processed. 

Renuga Inpakumar, a young activist and representative from the Tamil Refugee Council, aptly stressed that these refugees have been unable to work full-time or return home to their families for the past decade. She also called out the Sri Lankan government’s ongoing persecution and genocide of Tamil peoples.

“We must expose the harsh realities of what our refugees endure. We will keep fighting, and we will keep protesting until every refugee is free,” she said.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition called for “fundamental change” beyond the granting of permanent visas.

“We need more than permanent visas. We need an end to Direction 80, and we need to make sure that the people who have suffered at the hands of the Morrison government are the priority of this government,” Rintoul said.

Direction 80 is a direction within the Migration Act 1958 which places visa applications for individuals that are sponsored by refugees who arrived by boat at the end of the queue to be processed. This direction is another significant barrier for reuniting refugee families.

This weekend marked the ninth year of Labor’s policy supporting the turnback of refugee boat arrivals and their subsequent resettlement in offshore detention centres. The Albanese Government remains committed to this policy, having confirmed the turnback of a Sri Lankan refugee boat on their first day in office.

Protesters ended the rally by marching to Hyde Park, chanting: “Free, free the refugees!”