More than a thousand refugee activists protested in Melbourne on Saturday to demand that Australian migrant detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island be closed.
The protesters wanted Australia to find a “better way… [to] treat people seeking asylum”, Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told the crowd. Australia’s policy of holding refugees in detention centres was a “crime against humanity”, she said.
Chris Breen of the Refugee Action Collective, a not-for-profit group that campaigns for the rights of refugees, said refugees at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre have been protesting against mandatory detention for 91 consecutive days.
“When they protest on Nauru, they often hold their hands above their heads… to indicate that they’re prisoners with chained wrists,” Mr Breen said.
“We’re here today to demonstrate that there is broad community support for the only sane option, which is to shut Manus, to shut Nauru, and to bring all the asylum seekers and refugees to safety and permanent resettlement on the Australian mainland.”
The Refugee Action Collective will “continue to fight until Manus and Nauru are shut”, Mr Breen said.
One of the speakers was Mohammad Ali Baqiri, a former Afghan refugee who has lived in Australia for 13 years.
Mr Baqiri, who was “imprisoned” at the Christmas Island Immigration, Reception and Processing Centre at the age of 10, told the crowd he never lost hope: “Hope is the only thing that remains in a person when everything else dies.”
He had a message for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who controversially dismissed refugees as not being “numerate or literate in their own language”.
“I am a refugee. I was once told that I would never be resettled in Australia and guess what? Here I am.”
Despite a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling in late April that the detention of refugees at Manus Island Regional Processing Centre is illegal, the centre remains open.
Mr Dutton has said there will be no change to the Australia Government’s position in response to that ruling.
“Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea. Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin,” Mr Dutton said. – Report and photos by Matthew Male