Former Premier of Western Australia, Dr Carmen Lawrence, and now Professor in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Western Australia, addressed a record crowd of close to 1 500 people outside St George’s Cathedral at the Perth Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees, held on 25 March.
Dr Lawrence drew attention to the cruelty of Australia’s refugee policies, saying, “We know that the current policies are costly, costly in human terms and financial terms, and cruel, unutterably cruel, defying the refugee convention to which we’re signatory.”
Newly installed Anglican Archbishop of Perth, Kay Goldsworthy AO, Australia’s first female Archbishop, in one of her first major public appearances as Archbishop added her voice to the call for a humane response to people seeking safety saying, “Australians are a compassionate people. Instead of limbo and uncertainty, we can offer safety, freedom and a future.”
Uniting Church people joined thousands around the country calling for justice for refugees at the Palm Sunday marches. Speaking at the Sydney rally, NSW/ACT Moderator Rev Simon Hansford said people seeking asylum are not just numbers on a list, “They have faces and names and heartbeats – just like us! We will speak for them, we will sing for them, we will shout for them!”
VIC/TAS Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis urged Australians to reject the federal government’s “racist dog-whistling” during her address at the Melbourne Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees, while at the Perth event a number of personal stories were read out from people seeking asylum to highlight the direct impact Australia’s cruel refugee policies has on individual humans.
Mohammad Imran, a Rohingyan refugee on Manus Island, in a statement that was read out on the day, showed the encouragement the Palm Sunday walk brings to him:
“I would like to express my deepest appreciation to everyone joining the rally on Palm Sunday, and of course, to those who support us in a myriad of other ways. It is your solidarity, kindness, generosity, support and most importantly your humanity through which we (the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru) have found a tiny light of hope to survive in this isolation, which has been covered by darkness and despondence.”
People in Manus and Nauru are approaching their fifth year in limbo, with the devastatingly slow US resettlement deal only a far off hope for some, and an unachievable dream for many. In Australia, approximately 30 000 refugees (the ‘legacy caseload’) await visa grants or live on temporary visas with their futures shrouded in uncertainty and limbo. Many families are separated with no hope for reunification due to cruel policy, and live in constant fear of deportation to danger.
Reflecting on these devastating human impacts of Australia’s immigration and detention policies, Dr Carmen Lawrence asked:
“What is the process by which the nation’s arteries of compassion have gradually hardened, gradually lost the capacity to see the horror of what it is that we’re willing to do to our innocent fellow human beings who had fled in fear and sought our help?”
After conducting the short walk through Murray and Hay Street malls, participants were encouraged to donate, volunteer or visit their local Member of Parliament as ways of getting involved in the campaign for justice and freedom for people seeking safety. A list of the possible actions to take and the organisations to assist is available at https://justice4refugeeswa.com/