‘Our voices need to be louder’

Benalla Ensign - - News -

Ru­ral Aus­tralians for Refugees (RAR) — Be­nalla Branch — is hold­ing a com­mu­nity gather­ing on July 21 out­side the post of­fice on Bridge St.

This event is part of a Na­tional Day of Ac­tion or­gan­ised by Aus­tralian Refugee Ac­tion Net­work and en­dorsed by RAR.

This July marks the fifth an­niver­sary of the an­nounce­ment by then Prime Min­is­ter Kevin Rudd that: ‘‘As of to­day, asy­lum seek­ers who come here by boat with­out a visa will never be set­tled in Aus­tralia’’.

De­spite be­ing in con­flict with in­ter­na­tional law, five years later 784 refugees, in­clud­ing 22 chil­dren, still lan­guish on Manus Is­land and Nauru with no clear path to safe re­set­tle­ment.

De­spite th­ese peo­ple hav­ing been pro­cessed and recog­nised as bona fide refugees, nei­ther side of pol­i­tics seems to have any in­ter­est in end­ing their suf­fer­ing and of­fer­ing them refuge.

In the past five years 12 refugees have died in de­ten­tion, vic­tims of de­spair, in­ad­e­quate med­i­cal at­ten­tion and the in­se­cu­rity of their en­vi­ron­ment.

RAR Be­nalla mem­ber Hamish McPher­son said it was im­por­tant to keep shin­ing a light on this is­sue as the refugees be­ing held there are be­ing kept in poor and de­grad­ing con­di­tions.

‘‘The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment re­fuses to ac­cept them,’’ Mr McPher­son said.

‘‘Th­ese are peo­ple who have fled dan­ger in wartorn coun­tries such as Iraq, Syria and Sri-Lanka.

‘‘They just want to start a new life in a safe and peace­ful coun­try.

In­stead, in the name of de­ter­ring fur­ther ar­rivals, they are be­ing held on is­land pris­ons with­out proper hous­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, med­i­cal care or hope for the fu­ture.

‘‘The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment wants the Aus­tralian peo­ple to ap­plaud their bor­der poli­cies while ig­nor­ing the hu­man suf­fer­ing they have caused.

‘‘ Is this the Aus­tralian ‘fair go’ we claim to stand for?

‘‘We need to show that many peo­ple haven’t for­got­ten the refugees and want to see a fair and hu­mane ap­proach.

‘‘We think that all the refugees should be bought here as as soon as pos­si­ble to be re­set­tled in safe coun­tries, such as Aus­tralia or New Zealand.’’

Mr McPher­son said it was dis­ap­point­ing that both ma­jor par­ties sup­ported th­ese off-shore de­ten­tion cen­tres.

‘‘I think their hard-line ap­proach is in­creas­ingly out of touch with the views of peo­ple and the kind of coun­try we’d like to be,’’ he said.

‘‘Peo­ple are ques­tion­ing why the Fed­eral Min­is­ter Peter Dut­ton re­fuses to al­low even se­ri­ously ill adults and chil­dren to Aus­tralia for med­i­cal treat­ment.

‘‘Peo­ple have no­ticed that New Zealand is tak­ing a more com­pas­sion­ate ap­proach, of­fer­ing to ac­cept some of the refugees.

‘‘There is the Queensland county town of Biloela who are mo­bil­is­ing to try and pre­vent the de­por­ta­tion of a Sri Lankan Tamil fam­ily who ar­rived by boat in 2013.

‘‘Th­ese are signs that many peo­ple in both ur­ban and re­gional Aus­tralia don’t ac­cept the cur­rent ap­proach and want change.

‘‘We need to make our voices louder and show that pun­ish­ing refugees is a vote loser not a vote win­ner.’’

RAR wants the pub­lic to put pres­sure on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to bring all recog­nised refugees on Manus and Nauru to Aus­tralia as a first step to­wards re­set­tle­ment in safe coun­tries.

Be­nalla RAR hold reg­u­lar events, such as in­for­ma­tion stalls, meet­ings and movie screen­ings.

To be­come in­volved, phone sec­re­tary Jenny Monger on 5762 8088 or email jen.be­nalla@iinet.net.au

We need to show that many peo­ple haven’t for­got­ten the refugees and want to see a fair and hu­mane ap­proach. Hamish McPher­son

Protest­ing: Ru­ral Aus­tralians for Refugees hold­ing a protest in Echuca-Moama last year.

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