by Catherine Bassey
It was 12 noon on a fine sunny day when an increasing number of protesters took to the street outside Sydney Town Hall, disrupting the serenity of the city as they chanted loudly: “Refugees are welcome here, say it loud, say it clear.” Curiosity was stirred as bystanders pushed forward to have a glimpse of the 300 protesters who didn’t seem perturbed by the fuss they were creating.
It was another rally, against Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution, one of many that have been ongoing since Mr Rudd made his announcement on July 19.
“There has been an upsurge of anger from lots of people, leading to a series of protests in the past months since the policy was announced,” said Mark Goudkamp, one of the founding members of Refugee Action Coalition Sydney, who also conducts intensive English classes for newly arrived refugees at Chatswood High School.
Mr Rudd’s policy “has sparked the largest refugee rights rallies in Australia since John Howard,” said Duncan Roden on the Green Left Weekly website.
“Not only is Australia avoiding its international responsibility, it is putting the responsibility on a country that is very poor, and has difficulty providing services and a descent standard of living for its own population. It is bullying,” Mark Goudkamp said.
“This could create a precedence. The rally is, in a way, to encourage Australians to vote for the Greens, or anyone who supports refugee rights,” said Petra Weber, an artist and a former diplomat and journalist, who is also a human right activist and member of the Refugee Action Coalition.
Banners at the rally said: ‘If we are all people, we are all equal’, ‘Free the Refugees’, ‘We’ve boundless plains to share’ and ‘Seeking asylum is a human right’.
One of the protesters, Hadi Hosseini, a learning support officer helping students from Afghanistan and Iran, said, “I really want to be a voice for refugees. If you want safety for your children or family, then expect others to have that safety.”
Overall, the rally was peaceful. “If we can get the correct information across to a larger number of people, if we can organise opposition to the policy, then maybe we can make changes for the whole society,” Mark Goudkamp said. Meanwhile, the Refugee Action Coalition plans more weekly rallies.