City protest urges protection of asylum seekers [with video]
More than 300 Brisbane people formed a giant “life ring” in King George Square on Saturday to protest the government’s laws on border protection and asylum seekers.
Amnesty International spokesman Michael Hayworth said in addition to the 300 people who turned up in Brisbane, more than 1000 people attended similar protests held in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and regional centres across Australia.
Participants dressed in red and yellow clothing to represent surf lifesavers and stood in a circle to form a human life ring.
Amnesty International’s national refugee co-ordinator Dr Graham Thom said the intention of the protest was to send a positive message to politicians.
“We’re calling on our politicians, both in government and in opposition to remember why we support refugees, why we protect refugees. This is about Australian values of human dignity,” he said.
He said it was astounding there were still children being locked up in detention centres on Christmas Island and elsewhere in Australia.
“It’s incongruous that we can walk around on a day like today… and yet young boys, families with small children, new born babies (are) locked up in detention centres in Sydney,” he said.
The protest was also aimed at the suspension of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims, announced by the government on April 9.
The Department of Immigration said in a media release last week the suspension was in response to changing circumstances in the two countries, and the decision was pending a United Nations review.
But refugee advocate and Afghan refugee Chaman Shah Nasiri said the situation in Afghanistan had not changed in almost 10 years.
“I fled my country in 2001, just because people were persecuted. My father was killed, my brother was kidnapped. And most of the people who are coming to Australia today, they’ve all similar stories to me,” he said.
The protest comes as the Senate is wrapping up its inquiry into the Government’s Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill, which imposes harsher penalties on those caught assisting asylum seekers.
In a speech to the Australian Parliament in February, Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the new law would strengthen the Commonwealth’s efforts to combat people smuggling.
“It demonstrates the Government’s commitment to addressing the serious nature of people smuggling activities and to targeting those criminal groups who seek to organise, participate in and benefit from people smuggling activities,” he said.
Dr Thom said he was expecting the inquiry to back the legislation, but said he had several concerns.
“Obviously, Amnesty International does not support people smuggling. We don’t support vulnerable people being exploited in any way, shape or form.”
But he said people had a fundamental right to flee persecution, and the government could not penalise people for doing that.
“We’re really worried that this Bill could not only be used to target criminals who are exploiting people, but might include innocent people who are merely trying to help refugees,” he said.
The Senate is due to release its findings on the Anti-People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill on May 11.