UMSU Stands With 267 Asylum Seekers

19 March 2016

This month, UMSU Students’ Council passed unanimously a motion offering Union House as sanctuary for asylum seekers. In doing so, the Student Union join organisations across Australia, including the RMIT National Tertiary Education Union and the Maritime Union of Australia, in taking a stand against government policy. Places of worship have also offered sanctuary to refugees, and called on the Turnbull government to uphold its obligations under international law.

The implications of the Student Union’s motion are not only pragmatic; the motion illustrates the power of student politics to exert influence on issues with immediate, human consequences. These developments follow the lead-up to this year’s Palm Sunday rally for refugees, an annual march held in cities across Australia, which regularly draws thousands of protestors. The rally now carries the weight of an imminent threat to the 267 awaiting deportation.

The Campus Refugee Rights Club, who put the motion to council, are excited to see it passed.  CRRC spokesperson, Jasper Bell, believes that the decision represents a substantial step in the fight for refugees.

“It’s vital that students have a loud voice in the refugee movement. Let Them Stay actions have seen everyone from teachers to tradies, health professionals to clergymen, saying that government policy simply isn’t okay,” says Bell.

Earlier this year, the High Court denied a Bangladeshi woman’s challenge to the constitutional legality of offshore detention. The court found that the government’s proposal to return the 267 to offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru is a breach of constitutional law.

In its statement about the Students’ Council motion, UMSU drew attention to the conditions in offshore detention which they say warrant an unambiguous expression of solidarity with asylum seekers:

“Conditions in detention cause immense harm to the physical health of those detained, and in many cases lead to long-term mental health issues—this is evident not only in the opinions consistently voiced by medical professionals, but also in the disgraceful rates of self-harm and suicide in the detention system. What’s more, Australia’s offshore detention centres have been tarnished by countless allegations of physical and sexual assault. UMSU believe the government is not treating these allegations with the severity they warrant”.

The Let Them Stay Campaign has mobilised substantial numbers of Australians in response to the government’s initiative to return 267 asylum seekers to offshore detention. The uproar caused by the Turnbull government’s threat to return Australian-born baby Asha to offshore detention has demonstrated the willingness of the public to resist government policy.

The decision has devastated those who may now be returned to institutions proven to cause extreme mental trauma for both children and adults. It has also intensified the action of refugee activists fighting for those who find themselves insecure and effectively stateless in onshore detention.

The CRRC continues to call on the government to let the 267 asylum seekers stay.

“The people the Government are trying to deport belong with us at university, in our schools and our streets. They deserve better than being condemned to suffering and desperation in taxpayer funded camps,” says Bell.

The Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees, the biggest refugee protest of the year, will be on March 20th, 2PM at the State Library. The University of Melbourne student contingent will meet at Trades Hall (corner of Victoria and Lygon streets) at 1.30PM and march to the State Library to demonstrate student support for refugees.

Image by Jason Wong.

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