Above: Members of the ‘People Just Like Us’ refugee support group, in a 2016 protest calling for the closure of Australia’s offshore detention centres.
Hundreds of Australians will wear black and stand in solidarity with asylum seekers on Thursday, in a series of vigils across the nation—calling for Nauru and Manus Island detention centres to be closed.
The peaceful protests, named ‘Five Years Too Many’, will mark exactly five years since the opening of the two off-shore detention centres on July 19, 2013.
The vigils are being held outside the offices of MPs, and have been organised by Rural Australians for Refugees – a nation-wide network of social justice community groups. Protesters are gathering in locations across Sydney including Windsor, Penrith, Parramatta and Revesby; as well as across the country- in West Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and in a number of major regional towns in NSW.
Protesters are will dress in black shirts, hold placards, and at a number of locations will set up a haunting art installation: a circle of 12 chairs and 12 pairs of shoes, representing the 12 people who have died on the Nauru and Manus centres while waiting for asylum.
12 Lives Lost on Manus and Nauru, Many From Suicide
A recent article in The Guardian lists the 12 names of those who have died in the offshore centres: young men aged 23 to 34, from nations including Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Sri Lanka, and one stateless Rohingya man from Myanmar (pictured above).
Six of the deaths have been tragically due to suicide, suspected suicide or suspected overdose, while a seventh man died from burns caused by self-immolation (settling himself alight in protest). Another two have died from illnesses that became fatal after medical care was delayed or denied, and one man was murdered by at least two security guards and other staff at the Manus Island regional processing centre during riots in February 2014 according to The Guardian. The other two deaths were due to a road crash, and a drowning accident.
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The ‘People Just Like Us’ refugee support group believe their deaths are a direct result of “cruel and inhumane” government policies and are calling for the detention centres to be closed.
“They are the forgotten hostages kept by our government in order to avoid more people seeking protection here by boat. But this cruelty cannot be allowed to continue and needs to be stopped,” the group says in its Facebook event page.
“More than 1,500 innocent people, including about 130 children have been locked up for five years. Sexual harassment, child abuse, excessive acts of violence by the guards, medical neglect and mental illnesses due to the long-term arbitrary detention, have been very little reported by the main-stream media.”
The vigils are an effort to shine a spotlight the Federal Government’s asylum seeker policies. The ‘Five Years Too Many’ protests are being promoted on social media with the hashtags #FiveYearsTooMany, #TwelveDeathsTooMany, and #JusticeForRefugees.
Vigils in Sydney on Thursday July 19 will be held at the following locations:
Parramatta, at Centenary Square, between 5:30 and 6:30pm.
Revesby, Outside Coles Supermarkets, (next to Revesby Train Station, Corner of Dixon Lane and Blamey Street), 11 am to 1 pm
Windsor, 299 George St, outside MP Susan Templeman’s office, 12pm to 1pm
Penrith, outside MP Emma Husar’s office, 331 High St, 2pm to 3pm.
For more information on supporting refugees head to the Facebook page of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, or People Just Like Us, or the Rural Australians for Refugees website or Facebook page.
If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 000 in an emergency.