Walk for refugees

palm sunday walk
Vic/Tas moderator Sharon Hollis has described Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum as a national shame ahead of this year’s Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees on 9 April.

Ms Hollis will address the crowd as part of an interfaith panel alongside leaders from Australia’s Jewish and Islamic communities. She will then join other faith representatives in leading the walk from the State Library of Victoria.

Speakers on the day include Nazir Yousafi (vice president of the Victorian Afghan Associations Network and a former refugee), Jane Wylie (a former teacher on Nauru) and Abdul-Hadi Matar (a former refugee and Sudanese community leader). Aziz, a Sudanese refugee detained on Manus Island for the past four years, will share his story via audio message.

The Uniting Church has long called for the closure of the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. It believes all refugees and asylum seekers detained offshore should be transferred to Australia.

“The treatment of people seeking asylum in this country is one of our great shames,” Ms Hollis said.

“They come seeking safety, security and a new home.

‘Instead of a welcome we lock them up and further traumatise them. We must continue to speak out against the cruelty of government policy.

“I encourage all people of goodwill to come and walk on Palm Sunday to say ‘no’ to the current policy and ‘yes’ to being a generous, welcoming and inclusive country for refugees and people seeking asylum.”

In August last year, the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments announced they will close the Manus Island detention centre. Seven months on, more than 830 refugees remain on the island, in addition to the 378 refugees detained in Nauru.

During the Palm Sunday walk, refugee supporters will urge the Australian government to ‘bring them here’. They will also call for justice for asylum seekers living in the Australian community.

More than 30,000 people currently reside in Australia on bridging visas as they wait for their claims to be processed. Many of them fear deportation under the government’s fast-track assessment system.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection recently started sending letters to asylum seekers in the community, demanding they finalise their applications in as little as 60 days. The majority of these people have lived in Australia for several years but were prevented from applying for a protection claim because of backlogs in the government system.

Legal support services are concerned many applications are doomed to fail because of the fast-track process. Waiting lists for legal services can stretch for months. The applications forms are 60 pages long and filled with legal jargon that is difficult to understand for people without a legal background, particularly those who do not speak English as a first language.

As in previous years, Wesley Church on Lonsdale Street will host a pre-walk gathering at 1pm. This event is open to people of all faiths. Ms Hollis will give an address before the group walks down to the State Library behind the UCA banner.

There will also be a walk in Launceston this year. People can gather at Princes Square for a picnic from 12.30pm before the official walk begins at 2pm.


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