A High Court decision to allow for the deportation of nearly 300 refugees to Nauru was a defeat for the refugee rights movement. However, at a snap action organised by the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne 48 hours after the ruling was handed down, the mood was defiant.
Pamela Curr, campaign co-ordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre told the large crowd assembled at the State Library: “The beast that is human rights is stirring”.
Colin Long, president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, called Australia’s detention centre on Nauru “a tropical gulag” and said, “When laws are not right it is citizens’ duty to defy those laws”.
Long went on to announce that Victorian Trades Hall would be opened as a safe haven for refugees and that unionists would defend any refugees sheltered there from deportation attempts.
The need for civil disobedience was a recurrent theme of speeches. The crowd held a sit in at the intersection of Bourke and Exhibition Street near the Victorian Liberal Party headquarters. Thousands raised their hands to declare support for direct action to prevent deportations.
Chanting, “Let them land, let them stay!”, the 5,000-strong protest marched to the Department of Immigration, where another city intersection was occupied for an hour.
Smaller but significant actions were also held in other cities. It is impossible to predict how long the momentum behind this ripple of anger will continue, but further protests – including anti-deportation actions – are planned.
GetUp! has organised a series of Sanctuary for refugees" rallies across the country:
Melbourne Monday 8 February, 6pm, State Library
Sydney Monday 8 February 6pm, Town Hall
Perth Monday 8 February 7pm Outside St George's Cathedral, 38 St Georges Terrace
Canberra Monday 8 February, 6pm, St John the Baptist Church, Reid