AUSTRALIANS will be hitting the streets in their thousands in cities and towns across the country on Sunday, 11th October in opposition to the government’s inhumane treatment of refugees in detention centres both on Australian soil and offshore on Manus Island and Nauru.
There will be mass rallies at 11am on Sunday in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Darwin, Brisbane, and Adelaide. In the capital Canberra, whistleblower Tobias Gunn, a former Save the Children worker who has seen the deplorable conditions on Nauru first hand, will be one of the speakers at the main rally.
Gunn will be speaking out against the horrors of detention on Manus Island and Nauru. These include the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of men, women and children, and the silencing of doctors and other workers from speaking out about this abuse through the use of the draconian Border Force Act.
Refugee Action organisers declare: ‘Bring your friends and family or link up with one of the many groups attending and representing the diversity of Canberra’s community standing up for refugees. ‘Union contingents like CPSU, NTEU, IEU (Independent School Teachers), Nurses, AEU (public school teachers) and AMWU will be there.
‘There is a more humane, cost-effective, practical and proven alternative to the government’s cruel policy of deterrence.‘It’s based on the system Australia operated in the 1970s and 1980s to eventually resettle more than 100,000 Indochinese refugees. Join us! Stand up for refugees and tell Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the government that there is a better way and that Australia needs to completely abandon its shameful and inhumane refugee policy.’
Refugee Action are demanding:
• NO Turnbacks
• Close Manus & Nauru
• NO Border Force Act
• End Mandatory Detention’
Ahead of Sunday’s demonstration, the Melbourne Refugee Action Collective issued an Open Letter to the Refugee Movement. Entitled Kids Out, All Out! it stated: ‘Everyone wants children out of detention. The Australian Human Rights Commission report, “The Forgotten Children 2014”, which was released in early 2015, renewed interest in and drew attention to the situation of children in detention.
‘As a result, we have seen the formation of groups such as “Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children”. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has “Kids Out” as one of its key campaigns. Since the election of Malcolm Turnbull, the Greens have also prioritised the focus on children. Their spokesperson Adam Bandt said a key test for Turnbull would be “Releasing children who are locked up in detention”.
‘And “GetUp’s” campaigner Shen Narayanasamy recently argued: “People might be swayed by the Stop the Boats rhetoric, but they draw the line at child abuse”. But the truth is that there are few children in detention even if you count Nauru as well, where there were 87 as of July. The issue for children on Nauru is not detention per se, it is the fact that they are incarcerated on Nauru.
‘Getting them out of detention, only to leave them on Nauru would be worse than an empty victory. Keeping families and children on Nauru is still child abuse. By continuing to focus on “children in detention”, there is a serious risk of both disorienting the people in those groups and also misdirecting their significant energy and mobilising ability.
‘Limiting the focus to children, inadvertently actually limits the impact on the government. The fact is that the government is getting children out of detention including significant numbers out of detention on Nauru. Things have moved on since the “Forgotten Children”. To end the abuse of children, we have to end offshore processing and close Nauru.
‘It is time to campaign for what we really mean – close Manus, close Nauru. We also need to end mandatory detention, onshore as well as offshore. So long as the architecture of detention and deterrence exists, there is always a risk that children and others will be detained again in the future. Detention is not OK for anyone. It is understandable that people think campaigning for children is a relatively soft target, that can appeal to a much wider layer than “end offshore processing”.
‘It is also sometimes argued that “children out” is only a first step; and that the groups will then go on to campaign against offshore processing after “children out” is achieved. But that is not the way politics works. When (former Autralian premier) Howard released the children from detention in 2005, “ChildOut” folded. There are ways to tap into concerns about children in detention without disarming the campaign groups. Our slogans have to be “Free the Children; Free Everyone; Close Manus & Nauru; End Offshore processing”.
‘With the ascension of Turnbull it is essential that we don’t sell the campaign short.More and more people see through the Liberals’ “Stop the Boats” slogan. More than ever we have to demand: “Stop the abuse – free ALL the refugees”.’ The detention centre on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru was opened in 2001 for up to 800 people and the use of immigration detention facilities is now part of a policy of mandatory detention in Australia.
On 19 July 2013 there was a major riot in the detention centre with several buildings destroyed by fire. A TV programme on sexual assault allegations on Nauru last week lifted the lid on the scale of abuse women are suffering there. In one case, it was shown that the Australian government, Border Force, and IHMS (the medical provider on Nauru) have ignored the request for a termination by a 23-year-old Somali woman who became pregnant after a sexual assault. She is now 10 weeks pregnant.
‘The need for action by the government to meet her request grows more urgent by the day,’ said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. Despite her requesting a termination for weeks, the woman is now 10 weeks pregnant. It is simply unbelievable that health authorities have not acted sooner. She is in a fragile state, yet those who have a duty of care are recklessly playing with her mental and physical health.’
The woman, known as Najma on the TV programme, should be brought to Australia immediately, he insisted. ‘Najma lives in daily terror,’ said Rintoul, ‘Like other refugee women in the community on Nauru, she is completely vulnerable. Many of the refugee houses are remote; have no lighting and no security. Like so many others, the perpetrators of her assault remain at large. Their houses are not secure; the door locks can be, and often are, slipped with a knife blade, leaving them exposed to assault and theft.
‘Many of the Somali women refugees on Nauru have been found to be refugees because they have been victims of sexual abuse. Najma was held captive by a rebel Somali group in 2004 and 2005 and was sexually assaulted and abused over those two years and her suffering didn’t stop then. Rather than finding protection on Nauru, Najma is facing the same kind of persecution she faced in Somalia.
‘The government has been aware of the shocking rate of sexual abuse on Nauru for a long time. One Iranian rape victim was kept on Nauru from May until August before finally being brought to Australia. She is still waiting for her family to join her. The Australian government has created a living hell for Najma and others on Nauru. Nauru is not safe, and must be closed.
‘Malcolm Turnbull has made concern about domestic violence a hallmark of the new government. The violence against women on Nauru is as bad as the domestic violence in Australia. It is violence that the government is ultimately responsible for. The Prime Minister has the power to immediately to end the violence against the refugee women on Nauru. The only question is, will he?’