More than 3000 protesters have raised candles at a central Sydney vigil to shine light on the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, while similar gatherings have been held across the nation.
The action was replicated at the 700 “light the dark” ceremonies run by Getup! across the country, from Queensland cattle stations to Sydney’s Town Hall and Federation Square in Melbourne.
About 15,000 people were involved in the protests, according to Getup!.
The left-leaning group organised the event after Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed and 62 other asylum seekers were injured in violent riots at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
With short notice and a strong social media campaign, they managed to assemble a large, eclectic crowd who sung gentle hymns while swaying their candles through the darkening sky.
Among the thousands at the Town Hall vigil was Emma Miller-Cockcroft, who is sick of the government’s treatment of asylum seekers, which she reckons doesn’t reflect the will of many Australians.
“If your own government doesn’t respect human right to life then … it’s just a disgrace. It’s embarrassing,” the 28-year-old told AAP.
“It’s important that the world knows not all Australians are like this. We’ve got a reputation as being quite racist.”
The “hysteria” over a couple of boat arrivals was disingenuous and ignored Australia’s history, she added.
“Some of my family came here in 1890. They didn’t drive to Australia from Europe, they came by boats.”
Xenophobic treatment of asylum seekers must stop in Australia, The Chaser’s Chris Tylor said during a brief address to the crowd.
“We have more land than anyone else and we take fewer people than anyone else. That is absolutely appalling.”
Sydney-based communications student Sarah Hunt, 34, agreed, adding that Australia was “privileged” and said the debate should centre on human rights, not which of the two major parties was less-harsh.
Getup! director Sam Mclean was “shocked and incredibly pleased” with the turn out.
“As Australians see more and more of what is being done in our name on Manus Island people’s minds are really changing about it,” he told AAP.
About 4000 Getup! members have donated money in the hope they will be able to send some journalists to the PNG island.
“One of the biggest problems here is the veil of secrecy Scott Morrison is attempting to drop around Manus Island.”
More vigils may be arranged in the coming weeks, Mr Mclean added.