A coalition of refugee supporters occupied the intersection outside the Victorian Parliament House on Wednesday morning to stand in solidarity with the men on Manus Island.
A cellist sat in the middle of the Bourke and Spring St intersection, playing a Kurdish song composed by Kurdish-Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani. Mr Boochani is a journalist and filmmaker who has been imprisoned on Manus Island for the past four years.
Tensions are high on Manus Island with the detention centre set to close on 31 October. Refugees will be forced to move to alternative accommodation centres near Manus’s main city of Lorengau.
Gabrielle de Vietri from the Artists Committee said the refugee advocates do not expect the federal government to change its refugee policies, but hopes the Victorian state government can take action to protect the men on Manus Island.
“We want the Victorian state government to make Victoria a welcome zone, to make it a sanctuary state so that refugees can be settled here and protected here,” she said.
“We want that to be extended not just to refugees onshore, but also to refugees offshore.
“We want them to defy the Australian government and to bring them here and protect them here.
“We want a more humane policy for refugees that does not involve years and years of mandatory detention and torture.”
More than 600 refugees and asylum seekers still live on Manus Island. They have so far refused to move into the community because they fear violent attacks from locals.
Two refugees have killed themselves on Manus Island in the past two months and reports continue to emerge of violent incidents between Manus Island residents and refugees in Lorengau.
Ms de Vietri warned of a looming humanitarian emergency if the refugees are forced out into the Lorengau community.
“We’re hearing reports from the men in the detention centre on Manus Island that this is the worst it has ever been for them, that they feel extremely unsafe being transferred to the town,” she said.
“They are being forcibly removed from the detention centre, with power, water and essential services being cut off.
“We want to tell them that we see them, we see their humanity and see their suffering and that we’re deeply, deeply sorry about the situation they are in.”
Last week, Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan called on the federal government to end the uncertainty for the refugees on Manus Island.
The Uniting Church has been a longstanding advocate for onshore processing of refugees and a significant increase to Australia’s humanitarian intake.
“To offer those indefinitely detained offshore on Manus Island the opportunity to be moved to Nauru is terribly cruel,” Mr McMillan said.
“Detainees on Manus Island and Nauru are suffering in the absence of hope.
“They have already suffered too much. Many are likely to sustain significant and long-term damage to their mental health.
“Australians cannot absolve ourselves from ultimate moral responsibility for the welfare of these people, our fellow human beings.”