Who Really Inhabits the Refugee Activism Space?

Every day, it seems, there are things going on in the world that are just plain awful. I glance at them and pick a few to get properly worked up about. Then I take action about those things in some way – like going to the Palm Sunday rally. It was blooming cold and a little wet, though luckily most of the wet had occurred the day before. Still, there was plenty of people there – some reports said 5,000. We listened to the speakers – of different faiths and backgrounds, young and old, male and female – give witness to the truths as they saw them. Including one articulate woman, Idil Ali, who had the courage to speak truths to the power of a dominant force in the refugee movement, the Action Collective. She’s part of RISE – Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, a group that is run by refugees, for refugees. Why aren’t they more mainstream I wonder? Is it because they don’t quite fit the narrative that other “mainstream” activist groups want to send?

See video here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FRefugeesSurvivorsAndExdetainees%2Fvideos%2F1613517298688403%2F&show_text=1&width=560

At all of these rallies, the dominant presence are the loud, sometimes confrontational, people from the Refugee Action Collective or Network. There are other groups too – I need to do some investigation at some point into how the groups are connected.

In the lead-up to Sunday’s rally there was some friction – as mentioned in the video I think. It’s reminded me that we all need to be critical thinkers as activists, to make sure that the cause we’re fighting for is what we really think it should be.

I have a little motto for these things that I was given last year after hearing from a good speaker. Solidary and allyship, three bits of advice = 1. don’t be a dickhead – it’s their space/agenda/issue, not “yours”; 2. respect the main people affected by l-i-s-t-e-n-ing and following their lead in actions; 3. remember that issues are all connected (i.e. climate change issues are connected to refugee issues are connected to land rights issues and so on). Or, as RISE say, “Nothing About Us Without Us”.

A failure to listen properly has caused hurt here. But if that’s acknowledged and the wake-up call is heeded, things can improve.

There were some really good messages during the speeches. A moment that touched me was when one speaker asked us all to make hearts with our hands as she took a photo to send back to Nauru, to show those waiting in limbo that we’re still here, still pushing for change, still wanting to bring them here with us. Pressure is key – things are shifting. we can keep building momentum. Four years in limbo is far too long – let’s create change.




Palm Sunday Refugee Walk for Justice

Banner for refugee rally reading: "Walk for Justice for Refugees - 2017 - Bring Them Here - Close Manus, Close Nauru Welcome Refugees Permanent Protection - Palm Sunday, April 9. In the top right corner, a young girl holds a sign saying., "It's not fair".

Taken from the Walk for Refugees 2017’s profile picture

This event is occurring this Sunday. I’m excited – it’ll be the first time I’m able to attend. (Meant to go last year, but the knee intervened…)

I saw this photo up at my uni the other day.

Poster of baby in red t-shirt lying on white floor looking away from camera - text underneath read: Malcolm Turnbull #LetThemStay

#LetThemStay poster at uni – on one of the health student discipline-specific noticeboards. Way to go!

It made me happy. A bunch of my friends – including some who did the #LetThemStay group shot with me last year (well, the same student club) – are going along to Sunday’s rally.

There are rallies across Australia:

Details of Palm Sunday Rallies for Refugees 2017: NSW - Sydney (2PM, Hyde Park North to Circular Quay); Newcastle (12:50PM, Wheeler Place); Wollongong (2PM, Crown St Mall); Lennox Head (11AM, on beach front near bus stop). ACT: Canberra (1PM, Civic Square). VIC: Melbourne (2PM, State Library); Bendigo (SATURDAY, 10AM, near steps of info centre). WA: Perth (1PM, St George's Cathedral). QLD: Brisbane (2PM, King George Square); Townsville (4PM, Rock Pool, The Strand). SA: Adelaide (2PM, Victoria Square). NT: Darwin (5PM, Esplanade Park, from southern to northern end). TAS: Hobart (1PM, Parliament Gardens); Launceston (1:45PM, Princes Park to City Square).

Palm Sunday Rally 2017 details.



(Source: Catholic Religious Australia)

I’m going to the Melbourne one and I”m really pleased that some issues regarding solidarity – doing these events with refugees, not for or to them – appear to have largely been resolved. See the link below/.


See if there’s a rally near you and come along!

Donate to RISE Foodbank

RISE are a group of “refugees, survivors and ex-detainees”, who help out refugees in need. 

Their Melbourne foodbank could use a little love (see attached pics). 

Also, I’m supporting their call for the Palm Sunday rallies (and other “supportive” spaces to have more direct involvement (e.g. Speakers) from refugees, especially ex-detainees. Not just advocates speaking on behalf of them. Solidarity means putting those affected first, by creating spaces for them to share their stories (for starters)… See this link for more info. 

Rest is in pictures because reblogging etc. from the Facebook mobile app isn’t the best. 


Still, we must protest and raise our voices. The US-Australia deal is all-but-dead…why can’t the government show some courage and bring them here to Australia? close the camps!

Excellent analysis by David Manne in the following article: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/02/05/opinions/us-australia-refugee-deal/

Also, a perspective from America focusing on the humanity at the US-Mexico border: https://vox-nova.com/2017/02/05/brains-bodies-borders-biases-and-the-circle-of-holy-belonging/#more-29821

Refugees, Education and Activism

On Monday, VCE results came out. Among all the stories of achievement there were a few interesting ones. Like the one about Saad Al-Kassab. A Syrian refugee who came to Australia two years ago and has only learnt English in that time, he has graduated as dux of his class, with an ATAR of 96.65. Way to go, mate!

Recently, the topic of refugees and education has reared its head in a different form. Check out this article – the group Teachers for Refugees is standing up for those in detention by wearing t-shirts with slogans in their classrooms this week. Naturally, the government aren’t happy, saying silly things like “politics doesn’t belong in the classroom”. As the article says, of course politics belongs in the classroom – how else are students supposed to engage with history and current events? They have a right to speak their minds about the hell in detention (and to protest against the Border Force Act that stops them). Our treatment of asylum seekers is shameful.

If we gave them a chance and brought them here, imagine how life could be. Saad Al-Kassab started off in Australia working as the school’s gardener and after a few months got into the classroom. He now wants to go and study medicine. I wish good things for him and his future and hope that others will get the opportunities he’s received soon.


Gifts for Refugee Children Nauru

Concrete ways to help. Shared from Facebook via a copy-paste (only edit being the “# of days to go”). Links to the original are below. Imagine if everyone who saw this post did one of the actions suggested…that’d be something! You have TWELVE DAYS.
No automatic alt text available.

Rochelle Van Der Merwe to WE CARE NAURU – Gifts Network


📛DEADLINE: Fri, 18 Nov (12 more sleeps!)‼️

🎁YOUR chance to make an actual, TANGIBLE difference to a child’s life this Christmas. Despite being trapped in Nauru detention for yet ANOTHER Christmas, it has not crushed these children’s hopes that perhaps they could get a 🎁pressie🎁from their wish lists.

🌈Would you like to help us make this possible? Would you like to help us make sure that EVERY SINGLE CHILD there has at least ONE of his/her wishes fulfilled?

At 💚We Care Nauru💚, we are working hard to send every child in detention a gift this Christmas. We know what these children want🎁🎁🎁, as there have been endless requests for some of the simplest of things that we take for granted, such as new clothes, runners (sports shoes), nutritious food and vitamins.


1. 🎄 FINANCIAL DONATION💌: (https://chuffed.org/…/christmas-for-our-detained-children-i…) Every cent raised will go to our airfreight costs to send these items to Nauru, or to pay for requested clothing, food or vitamins.

Deadline: Friday, 18 Nov 2016.
– You can post – or, if in Melbourne, personally deliver – one/some of the requested items to our drop-off location (please PM for address).
– An easy way is to purchase some items online and let them deliver directly to our address.
– The deadline is so that we can wrap, pack & send all these pressies in time for Christmas.

3.)🎄SHARE this post🕊.

List of wanted goodies:
🎈clothes (light summer, sizes newborn to adult medium [for the teens])
🎈dress-up costumes (tutus, capes, anything awesome & magical)
🎈shoes (sneakers for boys & girls; sandals for girls; water shoes/crocs)
🎈Lego (much-needed, very durable)
🎈Duplo (much-needed, very durable)
🎈Mobilo (much-needed, very durable)
🎈other educational activities that don’t require batteries
🎈art & craft (also paper/sketch books)
🎈vitamins (vit D, iron or multi))
🎈nutritious snacks (esp nuts, dried fruit & veggies)
🎈chocolate (such a luxury there!)

🌟Your support means the world on so many levels. Thank you for your kindness.🙏🏻

Open Letter by RISE


Letter to the Australian Public – Re:Proposed legislation to ban refugees and asylum seekers who come on boats from entering Australia – 31/10/2016

On behalf of our members and governing staff from over 30 of the refugee and ex-detainee communities in Australia, RISE urges the Australian public to say NO to the Turnbull government’s plan to introduce legislation to ban asylum seekers who arrive by boat from ever being allowed into Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal to impose a “life ban” on refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived since 2013, as well as future refugees who will be arriving to seek protection, will be tied up with the “No Advantage Policy”, which was crafted and designed under the Labor party.

Therefore, we urgently request the public to resist the Australian Prime Minister’s proposed legislation to ban refugees and asylum seekers who come on boats from entering Australia. You can contact your member in the House of Representatives and ask them to not to support it. Find your member, http://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Members. Australia as a nation should treat refugees, who come to seek protection, with respect. Instead Australian politicians past and present have used it to become the utterly politicised issue it is now in Australia.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal only serves political parties like One Nation, Pauline Hanson, and her followers will be proud of their White Australia policies. These fear-mongering leaders will only boost the attitudes of racists and xenophobes, but will not bring justice to our refugee community.

Men, women and children are trapped in Nauru and Manus, held hostage by the Australian government and are used as political pawns. This is deliberately designed discrimination and well managed by Australian politicians. There is enough evidence that Australia’s treatment of refugees is barbaric, and that treating survivors of persecution in this way should not continue.

There are over 65 million displaced refugees around the world. Many are languishing without proper protection in interim camps. Australia’s discriminatory, human rights-violating “offshore” processing system for asylum seekers who arrive by boat adds tally to the interim camps and keeps refugees in isolation. Deterrence measures may lower the number of asylum seekers in Australia, but it is not a just and humanitarian solution for people trying to cross borders by boat, or any other form of transport, desperately seeking a place where they can be safe.

To lobby for international action, click on the following links and raise your concern:
UNHCR Geneva http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a324fcc6.html
UN New York http://www.un.org/en/contactus/
World Human Rights Watch hrwpress@hrw.org , http://www.hrw.org/contact/new-york
High Commissioner for Human Rights nationalinstitutions@ohchr.org , infoDesk@ohchr.org

Treating refugees as the problem or as political pawns is the REAL problem.

Link to the letter : http://riserefugee.org/letter-to-the-australian-public-rep…/

‘Nothing About Us Without Us’

#BlocktheBill Banning Refugees from Ever Setting Foot in Australia

I am getting tired of this. Yet again over the weekend the government have announced a new abhorrent law they wish to introduce. It would ban all refugees resettled in another country from ever setting foot in Australia. This is a move designed to shore up the far-right vote, wedge Labor and destroy the hope of refugees and asylum seekers currently in limbo on Nauru and Manus.

I heard Pauline Hanson crowing about it today. She believes that most refugees are economic. Yeah right. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2013:

“More than 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be genuine refugees in the March quarter [2013], figures to be released on Monday show. But those who arrived by plane – despite being eligible for release into the community and not having to face years of detention on Nauru or Manus Island – were almost twice as likely to be rejected as refugees.”

Yet, the fuss is always around boat arrivals! Honestly. Turnbull also virtually quoted Howard today. This is how low it’s sunk. Turnbull sold his soul to get the Prime Ministership.

We must act to express our displeasure at this new low. Write/email, call or visit your local MP’s office as well as contacting Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, Prime Minister Turnbull and Minister for Immigration & Border Protection, Peter Dutton. The ASRC has put together a step-by-step approach for ringing MPs – here is a video about it (and why you should do it).

There are rallies in Australian capital cities on Saturday. These rallies have been organised for weeks as #BringThemHere rallies but now take on a different dimension. Please come along to one if you can.

There are better ways! More humane ways that actually benefit everyone in the long-term. This is just ridiculous…

The government are hypocrites. They call themselves Christians and yet it’s merely lip-service. If they were true to their faith, they’d bring them here, as suggested by a recent statement by Australian Bishops in support of refugees coming to Australia.

Below is an open letter I saw on a Facebook group, Refugee Action Collective, where it was displayed for sharing further. There are (perhaps) encouraging signs, with Bill Shorten and other Labor MPs speaking out about how awful this bill is. It remains to be seen what the final decision will be however, so let’s apply the pressure!

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek
Shadow Minister of Immigration Shayne Neumann

Australia now has one of the most hostile asylum seeker institutional arrangements in the world. We we have come to accept that refugees and asylum seekers can be imprisoned indefinitely; that those who are intercepted by our navy should be forcibly turned back with no concern for what their fates will be; that the 28,500 in Australia will remain forever in limbo; and that those hapless souls we have marooned on remote Pacific Islands should never be allowed to settle in Australia even after several years.

The raison d’etre for this blatant human rights abuse is that we need to stop people smugglers and secure our borders. I know many asylum seekers, they are forever grateful to the agent that organised their transit to Australia because otherwise they would be dead. So in the tradition of Oskar Schindler and Nicholas Winton let’s call these people ‘alternative migration agents’ because the narrative that imagines them as some evil human trafficking cartel is a lie. Let’s be honest, just for once. And let’s admit that as the forcible turnback to point of departure of boats has succeeded in halting their trade anyway, the detainees of Manus and Nauru are not much more or less than the errant black slaves that Americans hung from trees for the crows to eat as a warning to others. Manus and Nauru are our “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”. They are heads on pikes, dingoes hanging from a trophy tree. I can’t express how appalled I am by the Coalition’s intense pogrom on refugees. What exactly have these people done that they deserve such abject cruelty?

Late last year doctors and nurses at the Royal Children’s Hospital announced that they would not return the handful of gravely damaged children under their care to a detention centre in Melbourne. The Minister, Peter Dutton, responded by saying that the result of their irresponsible behaviour would be naval officers pulling the bodies of dead children from the ocean. That is insane. Now he claims the new Bill he plans to introduce is in response to advocates ‘giving hope to’ detainees. The man is consumed by his own evil. This nation has now come to reflect that notion in Hannah Arendt’s ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ of the banality of evil. We think it is normal to hurt refugees. Please don’t let it become our norm.

We all know there are humane alternatives to the current policies, and cheaper. We know we could fund the UNHCR to process refugees in Indonesia, Malaysia etc. and then assist their passage to Australia in an organised fashion that would obviate the need for ‘people smugglers’ and rickety fishing boats. Remember in 2008 when Howard closed Nauru, the boats did NOT start coming again.

So this week, for the sake of this poor nation’s blackened heart and for those desperate men, women and children on Manus and Nauru, I am asking you to block Dutton’s Bill to “make it illegal for asylum seekers who try to come to Australia by boat to ever enter, even as tourists”. 

Shayne Chester



#BringThemHere, drat it!

Anyone else see the Four Corners episode on Monday night?


😦 Those poor children…we need to get them out of there. They belong in Australia, where they can be safe, not on Nauru in indefinite limbo, too frightened to go to school. We’re torturing them – for that is what leaving them in that environment, exposing them to physical, psychological and other forms of abuse is. See here: convention_on_the_rights_of_the_child

They’ve been through hell in their birth countries and have been classified as genuine refugees. They’re no longer in the “detention centres” on Nauru…but their situation, living in a hostile community that doesn’t want them, hasn’t improved.

They should be here!

And the government has the frikking nerve to criticise the ABC and Amnesty International, whose scathing report on the situation was released yesterday. They’ve trotted out the “saving lives from drowning at sea” line again, insisting that the refugees are the responsibility of the Nauran government (which, by the by, has accused the ABC of being racist and an “embarrassment to journalism” after the program). Pathetic! The Australian government doesn’t care about the welfare of the people restricted on Nauru…all they care about is being “tough on borders”.

I’m sick of it.

When will politicians have the political and moral courage to admit that they are wrong in continuing this – and seek a better way? There needs to be a compromise, a true multilateral solution that focuses on the humanity, vulnerability and welfare of refugees and asylum seekers.

In the above link, Amnesty International suggests the following:

Amnesty International urges the Australian Government to show genuine leadership and adopt a better plan for refugees which could include:

  • Boosting Australia’s aid program to help neighbouring countries better protect and support refugees. When people are legally recognised, have safe accommodation, can send their kids to school, and can work and access health services, they won’t be forced to make dangerous journeys to Australia.
  • Making sure the most vulnerable people are resettled within our region and globally. Pressure on individual countries can be reduced if Australia works closely with New Zealand, Japan, the USA, Canada and others to ensure everyone does their fair share. This includes Australia welcoming a minimum of 30,000 refugees per year through its resettlement program.
  • Including refugees in existing visa programs. In addition to Australia’s core resettlement program, to recognise the valuable skills and qualifications of many refugees by including them when allocating student, work and family reunion visas.
  • Assessing refugee applications within a defined time period. When people know they will be assessed in an efficient and orderly way, they are less likely to make a dangerous boat journey.
  • Undertaking timely search and rescue operations. Instead of hazardous push-backs of boats at sea, Australia can run search and rescue operations that save lives.

How about it, politicians?

It’s upsetting. My heart goes out to those children and young people. I pray that the situation will improve – and until it does, you bet I’ll keep speaking out about it.

[Convention on the Rights of the Child accessed here.]




I did this yesterday:

ESP Bring-Them-Here_photo 1.jpg
The Equality, Sustainability & Peace (ESP) Group at La Trobe says: #BringThemHere!

We stand with those on Manus and Nauru – we love you and support you. It’s past time for the government to stop stuffing around and close the camps. Set up some humane processes, open up onshore and offshore detention centres and #bringthemhere to #letthemstay.

Momentum is building – join us!