By Derek Schlennstedt
Tens of thousands of people took part in the Palm Sunday refugee rallies, held across the country on Sunday 9 April.
Of those thousands, some 35 Healesville and Warburton residents marched in solidarity to protest the indefinite detention and unjust treatment of refugees by the Australian Government.
The Healesville Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR) and Warburton RAR group attended Melbourne’s rally on Sunday 9 April at the State Library where they joined the march around the city.
The Palm Sunday Walk was a success and in spite of adverse weather conditions that hampered efforts it was estimated that around 4000 to 5000 people attended the protest.
Ellen Rowatt, a member of the Warburton RAR group and refugee advocate, said the event attracted a fantastic audience of passionate people who were all marching and protesting for the government to shut down the Manus and Nauru detention centres.
“There was a huge turnout, and everyone was so passionate,” she said.
“The government is violating the rights of these people on Manus and Nauru … these people have been forced onto a boat to escape a terrible situation and the government punishes them for doing that.
“Australia has closed the door on these people,” she said.
Although detention on Manus Island was declared illegal by a PNG court in April 2016, people are still held held there and refugees remain trapped on both Manus Island and Nauru despite having committed no crime.
The event invited various speakers to share their experiences and concerns about the future of the refugees held on Manus and Nauru including Idil Ali from the RISE (Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees) who spoke on the need to include refugees in decision making.
“The only time where my community is invited to speak about ourself is when you want to hear stories of our suffering and hardship, never for solutions, why is that? We are experts of our narratives,” she said when speaking at the event.
The Warburton and Healesville RAR groups are a network of regional groups supporting and advocating for refugees and people seeking asylum
Ellen Rowatt, who is studying for a masters in refugee protection and forced migration, urges anyone who feels that the government is treating refugees wrongly to speak out.
“People out there who are remaining silent but are horrified by the government’s treatment of refugees need to speak out, small voices can be heard and make a big difference and can have the power to affect decisions made by government.
“From little things, big things grow,” she said, quoting the Paul Kelly protest song about the struggle for equality.
Warburton RAR is holding an event at Nancy’s Cafe in Yarra Junction on Saturday 22 April, at 10.30am.
Members of the Ethiopian refugee community will be holding an Ethiopian coffee ceremony and have traditional food and Ellen invites everyone to come along.