For the past week Australian news outlets have been promulgating the plight of 267 refugees, including 37 babies, who are currently facing removal to the off-shore detention centre in Nauru. After last week’s high court ruling upholding the legality of Australia’s off-shore asylum seeker process people across the country have joined in protests and offers of refuge and sanctuary.
On Monday 8 February the community group Love Makes a Way hosted a peaceful public action at the office of the federal member for Swan, Steve Irons MP. The public action was orchestrated to hand deliver letters, written by concerned members of the public, to Mr Irons. The letters encouraged Mr Irons to advocate on behalf of the asylum seekers at risk of deportation, by speaking to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Later in the day hundreds of concerned people gathered at St George’s Cathedral in Perth’s CBD to peacefully protest the government’s position on removing asylum seekers to dangerous off-shore processing centres. Rev Chris Bedding oversaw proceedings, beginning by acknowledging the Nyungar elders past and present, he also relayed greetings from Rev Sealin Garlett who was unable to attend the event.
Chris opened the rally saying “We are here tonight for the very worst of reasons. The high court has ruled that our government has the power to send vulnerable and defenceless children and adults to Nauru where they will be exposed to violations of their human rights.” Followed by “And we are here tonight for the very best of reasons, because we are people who are united in a commitment to say welcome. We are people who are united in a commitment to stand for sanctuary and we have come at very short notice and some of us [came from] very long distances to say that we want to say let them stay.”
Following his introduction Chris introduced the Dean of Perth the Very Rev Richard Pengelly. Richard noted that apart from our Indigenous brothers and sisters, all Australians are immigrants, he expressed that he was a privileged migrant but he said “I’m not particularly proud of that fact because it meant that other, more worthy immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers missed out on the basis of their ethnicity”.
Later, Chris introduced Ravi who, having travelled to Australia from Sri Lanka by boat, was detained in the Nauru processing centre and in Melbourne immigration transit accommodation for over three years. Ravi read a poem he wrote while in detention. He read with strength and dignity, ending with the line “my dreams are dying slowly inside the fence”. The crowd responded with rapturous applause.
Michelle Bui also spoke followed by an exceptional hip hop performance from local artist Marksman Lloyd, Travis Fitch also performed earlier in the evening.
In concluding the rally Chris encouraged the crowd to go from that place and do everything in their power to make as much noise as possible in support of asylum seekers in Australia. He finished by saying “I might be a hopeless optimist but I feel like right now there is something happening in Australia and there is a movement of people emerging. We’re supported by the premiers of states. We’re supported by leaders of unions and churches. We’re supported by so many people, we can keep the pressure on, we can change the policy in this country. We will never give up.”
A number of Western Australian Uniting Churches have offered sanctuary to asylum seekers at risk of being removed to off-shore processing centres. If your congregation would like to offer sanctuary, contact Geoff on 9260 9800 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uniting Church WA congregations and members are invited to raise their concerns towards current Australian asylum seeker policy by joining in the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees on Sunday 20 March, beginning at 1.00pm at St George’s Cathedral, Perth.
To RSVP to the Facebook event click here.