Palm Sunday Rally for Refugees
On Sunday the 9th of April, more than one thousand people gathered in Civic Square, Canberra, to protest Australia’s treatment of refugees and call on the government to end mandatory offshore detention.
The event, organised by the Canberra Refugee Action Committee, was just one of several Palm Sunday rallies across the nation.
The loud cries of a diverse coalition of activists could be heard from several blocks away, sending a clear message to our government: refugees are welcome here.
Various community groups and associations marched through Garema Place, one after the other, pouring out from the main forum where St Vincent de Paul Society of Australia’s chief executive, John Falzon, and Hazara refugee, Jamila Ahmadi, were among the voices heard.
In an impassioned speech, Falzon told the crowd that it is “time for us to collectively dream of a society that does not lock people out, or lock people up, for the crime of hope.”
“When they come to our shores, they’ve been told by successive governments, ‘Abandon all hope, you who enter here’. Well, they might be told this,” he said. “But not in our name!”
The voices fell silent as Ahmadi addressed the crowd, sharing her story of how she came to Australia.
After she and her family fled Afghanistan, more than a decade ago, they arrived on Australia’s shores on the coast of the Northern Territory. Shortly after arriving, Ahmadi was placed into detention.
As she told her story, the audience was visibly moved. She shared the ways in which she has since contributed to making Australia a better place, combatting the misconception that refugees make our country a worse place.
With a university degree and a variety of volunteer roles under her belt, Ahmadi emphasised the importance of being accepting of others’ differences.
“I am the product of giving refugees a go,” she told the cheering crowd. “We are just trying to survive and live a peaceful life.”
Later, an ethereal pop-up choir serenaded protesters, sending a heartfelt message to asylum seekers coming to Australia with the song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’
As the people prepared to march, a final speaker addressed the crowd. The Canberra Refugee Action Committee’s own John Minns urged protesters to continue standing up for the rights of refugees, condemning the “chillingly named Australian Solution”.
“Australia leads the world in cruelty to refugees – we’ve been doing it for many years now. Our government are the masters of it,” he said.
“Before any other country, Australia decided to lock up refugees, make it indefinite and outsource to other countries.”
As he made a final bid to the crowd to become more involved, he highlighted the fact that the way we treat refugees has flow on effects to all facets of society.
“We can’t speak for refugees – but we can amplify their voices.”
You can find out more about the Canberra Refugee Action Committee and how to get involved on their website.