Shining a light on four years of offshore cruelty

refugee vigilThousands braved the chilly Melbourne weather on Wednesday evening to join in a candlelight vigil marking four years of illegal offshore detention.

It was one of 57 rallies held nationwide, with similar events taking place in major cities and regional centres throughout Australia.

On 19 July 2012, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced mandatory offshore detention for all people who arrived in Australia by boat.

Since then, the Australian government has spent more than $5 billon incarcerating refugees on Manus Island and Nauru. Close to 2000 refugees still remain in offshore detention centres, including 169 children.

VicTas Moderator Sharon Hollis attended the Melbourne vigil and called on the Australian government to immediately transfer all refugees detained on Manus Island and Nauru to Australia.

“I’ve come to the refugee rally because the stain of detention of refugees illegally in offshore detention is of such concern to me,” Ms Hollis said.

“These people are human beings who deserve to have their rights respected.

“As a Christian and a leader of a church, I really want to say to the government and to the people of Australia that four years is four years too long.

“We need to exert whatever pressure we can on the government to bring these people here to this country where they can again have a future and hope and do the basic things they want to do – get an education, be with their families and live a life that’s free and hopeful.”

Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre, one of the speakers at the Melbourne vigil, said Australia’s hardline refugee policy is doomed to failure.

“I have been to Manus Island three times and I have seen with my own eyes what is, and what always has been, an absolute dead-end arrangement that will produce nothing other than misery and human suffering,” he said.

“The men on Manus are incredible people in awful circumstances – every single one of them has had four years of their life ripped away from them.

“After four years of fear, violence, suffering, shootings and death, enough is enough. Every single man on Manus, every single family and child on Nauru must be evacuated to safety.”

Daniel Webb speaking at the refugee vigil in Melbourne

Daniel Webb speaking at the refugee vigil in Melbourne

Sajjad Askary, a Hazara refugee, shared the story of how he fled Afghanistan at the age of 17. The Hazaras are considered one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world.

“People like Hazaras, when they are being persecuted, it’s a matter of life and death for them to run,” Mr Askary said.

“I still fear for the people who are being targeted in Afghanistan, I still fear for those children who are being targeted on their way to school.

“My story is not a unique one – it is the story of millions of people around the world.”

Mr Askary asked Australians to remember not just those detained in offshore camps, but also refugees living in the community on temporary protection visas.

“People have lost their minds, lost their memories, lost their hope,” he said.

“I hear people say refugees are a burden. Refugees are hard-working people.

“If you want to see an example, go to Dandenong and see the refugees in the south-east. Go to Shepparton and see how refugees are working hard with their children and their families on the farms.”

During the vigil, the messages ‘Evacuate Now’ and ‘Four Years Too Many’ were projected onto the side of the Melbourne Central shopping centre.

A minute’s silence was also held for the six refugees who died in Australia’s offshore detention centres.


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