On Palm Sunday, 25th March, thousands of Australians rallied in major cities and towns across the nation to seek justice for refugees and asylum seekers.
The Canberra rally attracted over 3,500 people and was the largest in the country as a proportion of the population. The major focus was the physical and emotional suffering of the asylum seekers detained indefinitely and without trial on Manus Island and Nauru. Many of them have been there for five years with little prospect of ever being released and seeing family again. Despite the agreement by the United States to take some of them, the resettlement process is proceeding at a snail’s pace and the majority of the detainees will never be accepted for resettlement.
Speakers at the Canberra rally came from the trade union movement, Australian National University students and the major religions who were represented by the The Reverend Lynda McMinn of All Saints Anglican Church in Ainslie.
There were large contingents at the rally from the Catholic, Anglican, Uniting and Baptist church, the Quakers and other religious institutions. The rally concluded with a march through the streets of Canberra’s Civic Centre, led by Anglican Bishop Stephen Pickard, Catholic Bishop Pat Power, Baptist minister Belinda Groves, Reverend Lynda McMinn and other community leaders.
Following a suggestion from the Anglican Public Issues Commission, a number of people wore sackcloth as a sign of repentance and mourning for Australia’s treatment of our brothers and sisters whose only “crime” is to ask for our protection as they flee from horrors we cannot imagine.
Speakers reminded us that the United Nations, Amnesty International, Save the Children, doctors and nurses who have worked in the detention centres, even some of the guards, have condemned the conditions under which detainees are held. There have been several deaths and many attempted suicides amongst the inmates who are denied proper medical care and who are being driven to despair.
Several church leaders have emphasised that the Easter message is one of hope. Yet Australia denies all hope to the people in our detention centres.
by Charles Body
Photograph shows Bishop Stephen Pickard, Reverend Lynda McMinn, Pat Power, Belinda Groves and others leading the march.