A huge turnout of over 4,000 at the rally on Sunday demonstrated the feelings of Sydney people regarding the current refugee situation. And despite the new Turnbull government showing some restraint towards their policies at Nauru, the atmosphere at the rally was one of anger and disdain.
The Sydney Town Hall was the venue for people of many backgrounds, all showing their unity and comradeship for one cause: Free the refugees. One of the many pleasing things at the rally was seeing people of different religions and backgrounds all mixing together. Many of the groups wore traditional colours of clothing from their background. Some had travelled from places as far afield as Wollongong and the Central Coast.
One of the banners stated: ‘Grandmothers Against the Detention of Refugee Children’. And the strong Jewish contingent had a banner: ‘Jews for Refugees’. Robin Margo, a member of that group, said: “We are here because, with our people’s history, we believe very strongly in just and compassionate treatment for all refugees, no matter where they are fleeing from.” He pointed out that in custody in Australian Detention Centres are people from many countries including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Sri Lanka and many others. And the vast majority of these desperate people would have something positive to offer Australia.
“With the recent Moss Review finding evidence of sexual abuse inside the Nauru Detention Centre, the people here today are extremely concerned about the policies of the current government” said Ian Rintoul, one of the key organisers of the event. “The Australian government detention centres on both Nauru and Manus Island both need to be closed. And our message is for both the Liberal and Labour parties to act on this.”
Greens members for Newtown, Jenny Leong, gave a stern warning to the current government when she said: “We are all watching you very closely and you will be brought to account if the current attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees does not change.” She ended her account with the masses joining in: “Free, free the refugees – refugees are welcome here!”
An interesting comparison of refugees during the second world war was brought to the fore by Dr David Isaacs of Westmead Children’s Hospital and Sydney University. He referred to the St Louis ‘Voyage of the Damned’ and how in 1939 that ship with refugees bound for America and Canada was turned back, resulting in the eventual deaths of many fleeing refugees. You would think as a nation that Australia would have learned from that. After all, we are supposed to be a civilised, decent and caring nation.
After the speeches at the Town Hall everyone marched down George Street to Belmore Park near Central Station. It was a great atmosphere with Jews, Muslims, Christians and others all walking together as one under the common cause.
On arrival at Belmore Park, the Amnesty International spokesperson called for an end to secrecy surrounding Australia’s refugee laws. The crowd echoed this sentiment. And Australia was accused of breaking human rights by sending or threatening to send people back to their homeland.
The rally ended with a call to action for the public to contact their local ministers and voice their disapproval of the current situation.
And of course: “Free, free the refugees – refugees are welcome here!”