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Walk for Justice for Refugees draws thousands

Traffic came to a standstill in Melbourne’s CBD yesterday as thousands marched in support of refugees and asylum seekers. Coordinated by the Refugee Advocacy Network, the annual Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees unites and gathers people from many different religious denominations and cultural backgrounds, political persuasions, and community groups, to take a stand for a fair and welcoming Australian society.
 
The State Library steps and surrounding streets were filled with people donning placards that read messages such as: ‘Mercy and Compassion don’t cost more’, ‘Grandmothers are against all forms of detention of refugee children in Australia’ and ‘Australian refugee policies violate human rights’ in order to send a clear message to the public and politicians to close the offshore detention centres and “bring them here”.
 
Australian writer Richard Flanagan addressed the crowd calling for a royal commission into the detention camps.
 
“We are better than our politicians’ dark fears. We are not their hate,” he said. “We are optimistic about a country built on openness. We are hopeful about our Australia that has as its compass the recognition that strength resides in the willingness to help the weakest.
 
“This is not a time for pessimism, but optimism. After 20 years, Australia is once more beginning to move. We are not what we were in 2001. We have lived the shame, we have seen the cost in human lives, and we understand we are less free in consequence. It is time Australia once more walked tall in the company of other nations; time that we no longer bred mass murderers with our words.
 
“In this election and after, we must push harder than ever. We must fight and continue to fight and never ever give up. Because Christchurch proves one thing: national security does not lie in the fairytale of border security; it does not repose in the ongoing torture of free human beings: it exists in tolerance and human decency.

 “… change is coming. You can feel it, you sense it. It is coming and it will not be denied. But it needs us to fight for it and to keep fighting for it, and we need to fight for it, not only for the refugees of Manus and Nauru, but for our own salvation.
 
“We become the words we use. Mr Morrison, Mr Shorten: use different words: love, kindness, compassion, goodness, justice. Mr Morrison, Mr Shorten, tear down those camps. Close Manus and Nauru now. Close the camps and bring them home.”

Behrouz Boochani, a film maker and prize winning author who has been an imprisoned refugee on Manus Island since 2013 addressed the Melbourne rally live via mobile phone. He called on the Australian government to end the violence. He said it was time for Australians to make a big loud change.

Former refugee Nyadol Nyuon, who now calls Australia home and is a lawyer and community advocate, also spoke. “A queue that is a million people across the world, a million children across the world, is no longer a queue, it’s a disaster,” she said. “And if we don’t do anything about it, we are neglecting our own humanity, we are going to establish a world that is much poorer in terms of its ability to imagine a different future.

“By being here today you are standing for a better world; For hope. Justice. Kindness.”

The Walk for Justice for Refugees march commenced at Melbourne State Library and processed along Swanston Street, across the Yarra River, and ended in Kings Domain.
 
The Melbourne march was one of 20 marches that were being held across Australia in capital cities and rural centres.
 
 
Story and photos by Fiona Basile for Catholic Social Services Victoria

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