Above: Around 25 people attended a peaceful vigil-protest at Windsor on Thursday calling for the closure of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres.
Thousands of Australians gathered at shopping centres, public squares and politicians’ offices around the nation on Thursday, in a peaceful protest against offshore detention centres.
More than 50 local action groups joined in on the ‘Five Years Too Many’ protest, which marked five years since the opening of Manus Island and Nauru detention centres—and drew attention the 12 people who have died in the centres in that time.
Protestors are calling for the closure of the two centres, and for the more than 1500 asylum seekers in those centres to be brought to mainland Australia and given proper care.
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A number of the protests were held in Western Sydney – at Parramatta, Revesby, Penrith and Windsor.
Fabia Claridge, co-convenor of the action group People Just Like Us which rallied at Revesby, said she was shocked by the angry and abusive reaction of some people to their presence.
“People are not used to political things around here; some people are very hostile,” Fabia said. “We’ve had some people abusing us. It’s very scary. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I feel the level of racism is very virulent, more than before. It’s been whipped up by the government. Some people have come up specifically to abuse us and it’s very worrying.”
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Fabia saw a mixture of reactions though, with some passers-by coming to chat, support and take leaflets, and she was thankful for the generosity of Revesby Club that gave the group space to hold their gathering.
Co-ordinator of the Windsor vigil, Geoff Lattimore, who is also a member of Richmond Uniting Church, said around 25 local supporters gathered to make a stand. They included members of local churches, the Hawkesbury Mayor and a Greens councillor, and the local media. He was very pleased with the turnout.
A similar number gathered at the Penrith rally, organised by the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group.
“I’ve heard that Penrith and Hawkesbury areas had the biggest numbers of Hanson voters in the last election,” Geoff said. “So to get a good number of supporters in each of those places is quite an achievement.”
A supportive speech by local MP Susan Templeman was read out AT the Windsor rally held near her office, as she could not attend. As part of the vigil, there were 12 empty chairs set up with 12 pairs of shoes on the ground, to represent the lives of the 12 men who have died in the Manus and Nauru detention centres.
An even more haunting art-installation was set up at the Armidale protest: a row of 12 white figures, resembling bodies wrapped in white, along with the photos of the men’s faces. The Armidale group called their protest a ‘Day of Mourning’ with around 50 people gathered quietly in a circle around the display, many heads bowed.
Geoff Lattimore is now establishing a Hawkesbury branch of the Rural Australians for Refugees group. Anyone interested can email Geoff for details.