By Matthew Lau
More than 1500 people gathered in the centre of Perth to demonstrate a broad and united movement of people and organisations who call for justice and dignity for refugees and for people seeking asylum.
The march began at 1pm on Palm Sunday, 25 March at St George’s Cathedral, mirroring similar events in cities and towns around Australia.
Participants used the opportunity to voice their concerns to the national call for justice, safety and freedom for refugees, and people seeking asylum.
It is reported that there are now more than 15,000 people seeking asylum in Australia who are waiting for the government to decide on their refugee claims.
This year’s Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees was endorsed by more than 50 WA community organisations, churches, faith groups, and human rights groups.
One of the community service providers involved was MercyCare.
“MercyCare supports the Palm Sunday March because it is concerned about the ongoing suffering and violation of human rights of people fleeing from war, persecution and torture across the globe,” Mission & Culture Executive Director Sheryl Carmody said.
“Australia sees a very small percentage of the world’s displaced people who have been forced to leave their homeland as a result of war, persecution and torture.
“Our contact with people seeking asylum has taught us that most would prefer to be back in their homeland, and that those coming to Australia have a compelling story of loss, fear and needs.”
She said most of those affected had endured great hardship and risks to escape harm.
“Unfortunately, this trauma does not end with their arrival. The way Australia has been handling people seeking asylum in the last decade has diminished their human face and this undermines their dignity and human rights.
“MercyCare is one of the main service providers in WA supporting asylum seekers and is committed to making contribution to breaking cycles of suffering and disadvantage for people whose circumstances challenge our sense of mercy, compassion and justice,” Carmody added.
Andrew York, St Vincent de Paul Society Member & Volunteer Services Executive Manager, said the organisation has a long history of helping migrants and refugees.
“Vinnies WA welcomes and assists new Australians to create a life in WA. Support includes, emergency assistance, Yongah Hills visitation, provision of Christmas Hampers, English Learning Centre, and welcome picnics,” he said.
Dr Carmen Lawrence, Professor at the UWA’s School of Psychological Science, has been involved in the pursuit of human rights for decades and believes the nation can do better to respond to people seeking safety in Australia.
“We must say no to the limbo and uncertainty of offshore detention in Manus and Nauru, no to the separation of families and no to the limbo of temporary protection. We can and we must offer safety to those who have turned to us for refuge,” Lawrence said.
The Justice for Refugees WA network is calling on Australia’s political leaders to abandon the current “harsh and unjust” policies, and to provide permanent protection for people seeking safety.