UTS student completing a Masters in Advanced Journalism. Areas of interest include style, subculture, education and community action.
Sydney’s Belmore park played host to refugee supporters at the weekend for the 4th annual Palm Sunday rally.
More than 4000 people made their way down George street to Victoria park in one of the 22 rallies held around the country.
Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for rally organisers Refugee Action Coalition, said he hoped the rallies would demonstrate the public’s growing concern about the Federal Government’s refugee policies.
Offshore detention and the removal of vital services for refugees who are already in country were among the issues raised.
“When you look at what’s happening in the community, there’s no doubt that the awareness about refugees, and concern about what the government is doing, and opposition to offshore detention is growing year by year,” he said.
In the Christian calendar, the Sunday before Easter known as Palm Sunday, holds significance. On this day, Christians celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem before he was crucified and resurrected. Religious leaders representing a variety of Christian denominations spoke at the event, including Reverend Simon Hansford from the Uniting Church.
The symbolic importance of the day for Christians makes the protest even more powerful, according to Rev. Hansford.
He believes that the event gives a voice to those who are voiceless in society, something he sees as important to his Christian faith.
“We protest today, we say no today. We say no about the injustice of those who are most in fear,” Rev. Hansford said, addressing the crowd.
“We speak for the men and women and children who are denied their rights. Their rights to live and move, but simply their rights as human beings. And we say no to that.”
Prominent Rohingya activist Habiburahman, or Habib as he is commonly known, travelled from Melbourne to Sydney to speak at the event.
He came to Australia by boat in 2009 to seek asylum, and though his status as a refugee was recognised within a couple of months, he spent almost three years in detention before being allowed to settle in Australia.
Habib is especially concerned about the issues that Rohingya muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar face.
“Our people are still in detention here as well, hundreds of our people are on Manus and Nauru as well. About 2000 people are still languishing in the community here on bridging visas, and their refugee status has not yet been determined,” Habib told Central News.
After the ASEAN summit in Sydney, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised to continue giving humanitarian aid to Myanmar to help deal with the ongoing human rights crisis.
But Habib doesn’t believe this is enough. He thinks that government corruption (in Myanmar) will stop money from getting to the people who need it most.
“What’s happening on the ground is the government and military is restricting foreign aid, foreign journalists and they’re blocking humanitarian workers and foreign diplomats.”
Mr. Rintoul agrees. He thinks Mr Turnbull’s promise of assistance was too vague to show commitment to making a difference.
“We don’t really know if it will help. What we do know is that they will not accepted Rohingyan refugees, that there are hundreds of Rohingyans who are on Manus and Nauru, that he was part of a government that when the boats carrying Rohingyan people attempted to come in 2015, Tony Abbot refused to accept them.”
Habib hopes that the government will change its policies and allow Rohingya refugees like himself to settle in the country. The government’s policies, he said, are not in line with what a majority of the Australian communities believe.
“It is really great that all of the community, all of these people, are really concerned about what’s going on. They’re all raising voices for refugees, so this is really great,” he said.
“Today we see thousands of people joining. People who are grandmothers, teachers and from hospitals.”