Thousands of Melburnians took to Melbourne’s City Square to voice their “disgust” and “shame” of the government’s “harsh and inhumane” asylum seeker policy on Sunday.
Refugee March for Justice, organised by Refuge Advocacy Network, attracted more than three thousand supporters who angrily shouted “shame” and waved their placards and banners.
Speaking with The New Daily, Sister Brigid Arthur from Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project said Australia was at a “new low” with its treatment of innocent people.
“I think that’s a new low in Australian life that we could lock up kids and women, particularly women who have just given birth to children,” she said.
Sister Brigid said Australia is “spooked” and lagging behind Lebanon when it came to helping those in need.
“Australia is shown to be really wanting when a country like Lebanon can accept millions of refugees and we get spooked by a few thousand.”
Holding a poster of the recently murdered Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, who was being processed offshore, Australian/Iranian protestor Bahman Yussofi labelled the government ‘racist’.
“It’s a cruel and inhumane way of treating asylum seekers by this racist Tony Abbott government. I think they should back off their policy and bring the asylum seekers back in Australia and process them here,” he said.
MC for the rally, comedian Corrine Grant, called the Australian government “un-Christian” and “accountable for the death of Reza Berati”.
“It’s just a disgrace what we are doing. We are torturing people; there is absolutely no doubt that we are inflicting human rights violations on innocent people,” Ms Grant said.
Speaking with The New Daily, Ms Grant said the governments’ policies are “about punishing people”, and the government must “show some compassion, you say you’re Christian, act like it.”
Ms Grant said the Labor party was “gutless” and unable to provide the Australian people with a better alternative.
Protestor, Jenell Quinsee, 43, from Coburg said she was “deeply, deeply ashamed of how the Australian government is treating people seeking asylum”.
While shaking her tambourine loudly, she added: “They need to be met with compassion, safety and friendship not with barbaric conditions.”
“Detaining children and adults is completely unjust I think it’s a completely disgusting way of treating people who have fled such devastating conditions.”
Former federal parliament speaker and Labor MP Anna Burke, whose collogues rejected her recent bid to abandon offshore processing, said the situation is “complex”.
“Not every asylum seeker will be a genuine refugee but each of those that seek asylum in our country should be treated with dignity, humanity and above all kindness in that process,” she said.
“They should be treated as humans not some number, not some fear, not some other.
“Most importantly it should be done in a timely manner.”
Deputy Greens Leader Adam Bandt said people in Melbourne and right across Australia are sick of the politics of fear.
“Australian Labor Party and Liberals are engaged in a cruelty war, and the competition is to see who can be the toughest on refugees.
He said that Australians have woken up to the “misguidance” of our leaders and the “wheel is turning back”.
“People should have hope because things can change and it’s our job to tell the story of people who have come here, seeking asylum and refugee, and to remind the rest of the country that things can be done differently.”
According to latest figures released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, there are 208 under-age asylum seekers in offshore detention, an increase from last released data, which indicated 190 and 775 children in detention across Australia.
Figures also show 669 female asylum seekers are being kept behind barbed wire, while 641 living on approximately $36 a day in community detention. Another 304 female asylum seekers are being kept in offshore detention.
The total number of men in detention centres across Australian is 2,572 with 1883 in offshore facilities.