Thousands have turned out at Palm Sunday refugee rallies across Australia calling for more humane policies towards refugees and asylum seekers.
Advocates are pushing the government to release all asylum seekers in detention, provide permanent protection for temporary visa holders and social safety nets as well as boosting the refugee intake program.
The Palm Sunday marches across major cities from Sydney to Darwin came ahead of a federal election called for May 21 and after more than 25 refugees were released last week, including eight people from Melbourne’s Park Hotel.
“Their detention was never justified and clearly in breach of Australia’s treaty obligations on arbitrary detention and the treatment of refugees,” the Refugee Council of Australia said upon their release.
“It has seriously damaged the individuals’ mental and physical health, cost the Australian taxpayers a fortune and done much damage to Australia’s international reputation.”
Park Hotel is where tennis player Novak Djokovic was detained earlier this year.
Djokovic was ultimately deported on the eve of the Australian Open after the Federal Court upheld the immigration minister’s decision to cancel his visa after he failed to meet strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements..
Organiser Ian Rintoul of Refugee Action Collective said over 5000 people had marched nationwide on Sunday, with the majority in Canberra and Melbourne, in what he deemed was an important message to send to politicians.
“We know there’s no element of compassion from the Coalition government… and Labor remains committed to offshore detention,” he told AAP.
He said even though it might not feature as a prominent agenda item for the average Australian voter, the international attention that came with Djokovic’s brief detention has shed light on the issue.
“We didn’t give up in 2019 when Scott Morrison was elected … and we’re not going to give up regardless of who gets elected on 21 May”.
Last month, the federal government announced 16,500 humanitarian places for Afghan nationals and has resettled some 5000 Ukrainians since the start of the Russian invasion.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says 10 refugees remain in Australian detention centres while nearly 200 remain in offshore centres on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
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