Protesters at State Library Forecourt. Photo- Katie Coulthard

#LetThemStay Recap- Melburnians take to CBD streets, rally against government & High Court

by Katie Coulthard | @coulthard_katie

They came en masse.

People from all walks of life gathered outside the State Library of Victoria on Thursday night for one collective reason- to show their disagreement with the recent High Court verdict to determine the funding of offshore detention of asylum seekers and refugees, as ‘legal’.

The decision, backed by the Turnbull government, has sparked fears 267 asylum seekers, including 52 children, currently in Australia may face deportation back to Nauru and Manus Island in the near future.

“It’s about basic human rights. We have to share and be generous as a country, when we have so much,” one protester told Catalyst.

The ruling has also outraged refugee advocates and community leaders.

“Nauru remains a prison island. Nobody should be there,” Organiser and Refugee Action Collective’s Chris Breen told the crowd.

Breen was critical of Malcolm Turnbull, citing an inconsistency in his anti-violence against women policies.

“He claims to be the Prime Minister who cares about domestic violence, but what about those women on Nauru?” he said, prompting loud calls of “shame” from those in attendance.

According to Breen, the large group facing deportation includes six women who have been “seriously sexually harassed or assaulted” and 37 babies.

The demonstration brought Swanston Street to a standstill as protesters made their way to the Department of Immigration offices in Spring Street.

Creativity and compassion intertwined within banners and signs held by protesters. One woman held a sign asking if Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton would be prepared to “send their grandchildren to Nauru”.

Najib, a former refugee from Kenya, carried a banner stating he had “lived in refugee camp, wouldn’t recommend it”.

“I’ve had a lucky life here and I just want other people to have the same opportunities. Australia is an accepting country,” he said.

Overall, despite disruptions to traffic and public transport, there was a visible display of support from passers-by. Many outdoor diners stood from their tables and applauded as the march moved through the CBD.

The rally concluded with protesters pausing for a mass sit-down in front of Spring Street offices, with organisers inviting participants to share their thoughts via megaphone.

Sally, a regular visitor to the Melbourne Immigration Transition Centre (MITA) in Broadmeadows, said the High Court decision had distressed asylum seeker families.

She said one family with a three-week-old baby have been notified they will be deported to Nauru.

“They belong here. In our backyards, at our barbecues, on our trains, in our schools,” she said.

“What kind of country allows a baby to be born and to have no identity?”

Her words were hard to swallow for many, who became emotional when Sally said she would be prepared to put her “body on the line” to deter officials from deporting asylum seekers.

Similar demonstrations were held across the country and #LetThemStay trended across social media.

A follow-up protest occurred on Friday at Flinders Street Station and groups have vowed to return.

The Federal Government are yet to make formal acknowledgement of the rallies.


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