March for refugees – some thoughts

John Hargreaves 13 October 2017 5

Manus Island detention centre.

Last Monday, the 8th of October, I participated in a march and rally in support of the refugees incarcerated on Manus Island and Nauru. A little light rain did not deter the 1500 people who took part.

A couple of interesting things happened and they will stay with me for a long time.

The first was an address by Zaki, a Hazara man from Afghanistan, who had been terrorised by the Taliban. He told stories of friends and relatives killed because of their religion. He said they had no alternative but to flee. He went to Manus Island via Christmas Island (in a leaky boat that was unseaworthy and was scary)

He was told that he couldn’t come to mainland but fortunately he did get to go to Tasmania and was sponsored to go to CIT and become trained. He is now settled here but he told stories of hideous discrimination and desperation of those in the “refugee” camps off-shore. He talked about self-harm and diminution of the human spirit. How lucky was he to be able to stay?

Veronica Wensing talked about the discrimination being dealt out to LGBTIQ folks and likened it to the discrimination of the refugees making the valid point that if you are unlucky enough to be discriminated against because of sexual orientation, at least Australia is a safe place. She told of 13 countries which still have the death penalty. She told that the UN resolution calling for the discrimination to be ended was passed but that the 13 countries opposed it and so did the US!

She also told us of two guys on Manus Island who had not met before going there and who had fallen in love. For them, going home was not an option. To return them to their homeland is to sentence them to death.

If ever I was given a good reason to vote YES in the survey, Veronica gave it to me (even though I already had voted that way).

As an ex Minister for Multicultural Affairs, and being a bit outspoken on refugee issues, I was lucky enough to be asked to share the lead of the march by holding the lead banner in the company of some other ACT luminaries. I felt in exalted company because folks, like Sue Wareham and Sue Packer had been doing great things for years and years.

I was next to the one bloke in Canberra who I hold in the highest esteem. A bloke who is the most selfless, considered and quiet adherent to the notion of the safety of human beings, a bloke who leads by example in a quiet unassuming fashion, whose gentleness and concern are infectious. That bloke is Bishop Pat Power. Are you listening (or reading) God? If you exist, you have to look after Bishop Pat. He is your best ambassador.

Regular attendees at these events are Shane Rattenbury and Caroline Le Couteur. I was next to Carolyn as I have been on a number of other occasions. Their concern is genuine and that they give up their time to support the efforts of others is commendable. The Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Rachel Steven-Smith was there and for a time shared the holding of the banner.

A couple of other Labor MLAs were to be there but one was in hospital at the last minute and the other was at a multicultural event which (inevitably) ran over time.

I tell you this because of a disappointment I have with my political opponents. Not only were they nowhere to be seen, I found out something I didn’t know about – the motion to declare Canberra a welcoming city for refugees, recently passed by the Assembly.

It turns out that the motion has been (and was on the day of the march) described as the first initiative to declare Canberra such a city. Well, the record must be corrected. When I was the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, the then Chief Minister Jon Stanhope declared Canberra a Welcoming City for Refugees. That was over a decade ago and Canberra was the first Capital City to so declare.

Anyway, when the recent motion was debated and put to the Assembly, Labor and the Greens voted in favour but the Liberal Opposition abstained. Abstained!

I just can’t figure this one out. If the local Libs were worried about going contrary to Minister Dutton, I can understand (but not accept) it and would see them voting against the motion. But to abstain is cowardly. Fence sitting on threats to human lives is not an option.

Where was Steve Dozspot whose own journey was as a Hungarian refugee? Where were Elizabeth Kikkert and Elizabeth Lee, both with multicultural backgrounds and who are steeped in the cultures of their ancestries and both enjoy the freedoms from death squads that we enjoy.

Good questions these.

Whilst the march proceeded, a couple of guys who were window washers and who boasted of being indigenous abused the marchers saying that they couldn’t get the benefits that the refugees could and that it was wrong that we should support them. I have cleaned up the actual words used to protect the eyes of the innocent. But they are allowed to dissent in this country, even to the use of abusive language, in a way. Even though the language was indeed abusive, no-one in the march retaliated, but there was not a policeman in sight for all of the rally and the march, that I could see.

Did this experience and two others like it, spoil the march. Nuh! Everyone who came chanted “Refugees are Welcome Here” among other chants. We all felt that we had done something, that the message might get to the poor souls on Manus Island and Nauru – they are not forgotten, we weep for their plight and we fight to free them. Some of us more so than others.

Zaki came to Australia because he had heard that here is a place of freedom, of absence of discrimination on the basis of religion. He is almost right.

Anyway, the march and rally were successful and we all went home to our houses to enjoy the freedoms and love of our families. No such luck for those in the camps.

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5 Responses to March for refugees – some thoughts
dungfungus dungfungus 7:11 pm 17 Oct 17

I am not challenging Zaki’s story or his eligibility to gain refugee status but what is clear is that he is a “queue jumper” and he paid people smugglers to get him to Australia without papers via Christmas Island. The condition of the boat has no bearing on his journey by the way.

Full details of his journey were not supplied and I would like to know if he sought asylum in the first country he arrived in before he got to Indonesia where he presumably caught a boat to Christmas Island which isn’t a very long journey.

If we condone what he did we are paving the way for others to do the same thing. This will put more lives in danger and somehow the government of the day will be blamed.

Australia is not a “rich” country anymore so let’s not encourage any further unauthorised boat arrivals. People who want to come here should seek asylum through the UN who are the governing body for global refugees.

Lucy Baker Lucy Baker 5:20 pm 16 Oct 17

I notice there’s no mention in the article of the horrendous conditions endured by refugees in Kenya, Jordan, South Sudan, Bangladesh etc. They make Nauru look like Easy Street – and those people, who have no means to pay a people-smuggler, are at the mercy of our formal humanitarian intake. Sure, they may be less entrepreneurial in terms of contributing to Australia’s economy, but they are in immediate need. I feel sorry for the Manus guys, but I want those overseas camps prioritised over Manus & Nauru. Women in South Sudan are grinding grass roots to feed their starving children.

chewy14 chewy14 1:20 pm 16 Oct 17

I can’t possibly think why the local opposition would abstain from such a pointless and politically motivated vote.

Oh wait, yes I can, it’s probably to do with the certainty that their political opponents would claim that they were “against refugees” if they did.

Does the author actually think there are more than a handful of people in Canberra who are actually not in support of welcoming a certain amount of genuine refugees to Canberra each year?

Refugees who would be selected from the most at-risk groups rather than self selected arrivals who have paid tens of thousands of dollars to people smugglers to get here, travelling through multiple third countries whilst doing so?

Phil on Mort Phil on Mort 11:54 am 16 Oct 17

You’ve painted the Liberal politicians in this city as cowardly, just by not showing up to the rally. And if the window washers said they were indigenous, why not just say indigenous window washers? You may as well as said you didn’t believe them, because that’s how it reads to me.

You get to have your rally and have your say in this publication, why do you also have to have a go at others because they either disagreed with you or simply didn’t show up? Are people in this country not allowed to have differing opinions anymore without being held to task for it?

dungfungus dungfungus 10:21 am 16 Oct 17

This is a good initiative for the sort of refugees that Australia needs:

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