50 students from the University of Melbourne joined thousands of people at the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees rally yesterday afternoon. The annual protest was organised in Melbourne this year by the Refugee Advocacy Network. It was endorsed by 150 other diverse organisations and collectives and occurred in every capital city in Australia at the same time.
The rally aimed for participants to stand in solidarity with asylum seekers held in offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. This year’s large group gathered in front of the State Library of Victoria in wet weather conditions to hear accounts of the reported horrors inside these facilities. Umbrellas in hand, they then walked and chanted through Melbourne’s CBD. Students who formed part of the University of Melbourne contingent came from a variety of on-campus clubs and societies.
University of Melbourne students demanded the closure of offshore detention centres and an end to the Australian Government’s ‘stop the boats’ policy. While their main focus was putting pressure on the Government, they also expressed their dissatisfaction with the University’s apparent lack of compassion and support for people seeking asylum.
The University currently employs Wilson Security, which also provides services to Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. The student contingent has had long running issues with this partnership, and has previously hosted and attended well-supported rallies against it.
University of Melbourne student and organiser Jason Wong, called for the University to use its power as an institution to support asylum seekers rights to settle in Australia.
“Above and beyond divesting from Wilson, the University needs to come forward and say ‘we want this to end, bring them here’,” Wong said.
“If they were serious about helping these people they’d be putting pressure on the Government, using the social weight of their academic platform. They definitely have the power to say that this is unacceptable.”
Wong, along with fellow students, launched a campaign in the weeks leading up to the rally in order to raise awareness. They wore the print ‘students say: close the camps, bring them here’ while hosting regular informational stalls outside of Union House, offering pamphlets. They also informed whole lecture theatres of the rally in order to build the contingent.
“The point of the student contingent is basically to spread the message of support for refugees into different sorts of communities,” Wong said.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in society, if you stand with the contingent you’re saying that your interests are closer to that of the refugees than the Government. This is an important message to send.”
Adults and children have been held on Manus Island and Nauru for three-and-a-half years as the Australian Government processes their claims for asylum. They live in conditions that Amnesty International has described as “tantamount to torture.”
Wong had message for the Turnbull Government on behalf of the contingent.
“We expect them to listen to public pressure and bring the refugees here to be settled safely. Until this happens, we will continue to build in different communities and we continue to spread the message. Bring the refugees here now or be humiliated!”