There are two things that I think set a nation apart as a leader among nations. One is generosity. The other is wise and good stewardship.’ These were the opening words of Bishop Carol Wagner’s talk at the Palm Sunday Refugee Rally in Canberra’s Garema Place on Sunday 10 April.
Bishop Carol then considered how Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers measures up against these qualities.
The pitifully small number of refugees we accept for settlement in Australia and the cruel way we treat those seeking asylum is certainly not generous.
And the cost of keeping refugees and asylum seekers in detention is enormous. Australian taxpayers pay around $470,000 per detainee per year to keep them in hotel detention. In addition, the cost of keeping the Murugappan family from Biloela in detention for the past four years has been over $7 million. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars to lock up and mistreat refugees is not good stewardship of Australia’s resources.
Mostafa Azimitabar, a Kurdish refugee from Iran, spoke about his eight years in detention before being released last year on a temporary bridging visa. His detention included two years locked in the Park Hotel in Melbourne where Novak Djokovic was detained for five days earlier this year.
Mos has written and performed songs about his time in detention and to express his thanks to those who have supported him. He gave a very moving rendition of one of his songs at the rally.
Hasima Ebrahimi, a refugee from Afghanistan, struggled to contain her emotions as she spoke of the situation in her homeland. Hasima is an actor and film-maker who uses her talents to fight for her family, society and freedom and to ensure the world does not forget Afghanistan.
Craig Foster, former Socceroo and SBS sports reporter, has given up a lucrative career in television to work for justice for refugees. He spoke about his visits to the Manus Island detention centre where he and Mos became good friends, and he passionately argued for refugees to be treated as people rather than as pawns for political purposes.
Associate Professor John Minns from the ANU ended the rally with some words of encouragement. He pointed out that for the first time in two decades, on the eve of an election, the Australian government has released a few refugees from detention. This glimmer of compassion must extend beyond the election campaign.
Christians from all denominations joined people from other faiths and the wider community in the crowd of over 1,500 people who then marched peacefully around Canberra’s city centre.