Around Australia, demonstrations such as this have been taking place for the last week. Thousands have rallied together in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Canberra and Hobart and now Brisbane. Why are we coming together like this? The reasons are varied; to welcome refugees, to take a stand against detention centres, to take a stand against wars that cause people to flee their countries, and to remember Aylan Kurdi.
In case you missed it, Aylan Kurdi was a 3 year old boy who was recently found dead, washed up on a beach in Turkey, after his family was forced to flee from Syria and was making their third attempt at a new life. His brother and mother also died. You can read more about it here (content warning: contains an image of Aylan, dead).
Aylan and his family are not the only people dying to get somewhere safe; 800 African refugees died in a week in April, hundreds have died coming to Australia and some have died in Australian detention centres, "More than 1,750 migrants perished in the Mediterranean since the start of the year". People don't risk their lives for no reason. They are running away from terrible situations and deserve to be treated well and with welcoming arms.
In Australia, however, our Government (ALP and LNP) have supported the off-shore "processing" of asylum seekers, in places that have been revealed to be filled with child sexual assault, suicide, self harm, abuse and more terrible things. LNP leader and Prime Minister Tony Abbott originally refused to take in any refugees from Syria, but has recently changed his position to a measly 12,000 - with there rumoured to be a focus on Christians (note: originally this was just as part of the existing quota for refugee intake, not on top of it, but due to pressure he has changed his position again). Tony Abbott will, at the same time, be sending troops to bomb Syria.
Back to the Light the Dark vigil:
After the band finished playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", our second speaker was introduced. Reema (spelling may be incorrect) was introduced as a feminist and a screen writer. She had left Syria just three years ago because she was wanted by the Assad Regime for being outspoken about democracy.
The first things that Reema said was "thank you" and I felt so undeserving; I have done nothing and it feels like Australia as a whole has not done enough. She followed this by paraphrasing from Aylan's father; "may my son's loss be a symbol of the tragedy of all Syrians". She talked about how the children in Syria cannot sleep because of the bombing by the Assad Regime and by ISIS. As a mother, she was unable to sleep because of Aylan's death; it was haunting her. As a Syrian, she feels anger and sadness that the international community does nothing while people face persecution and death every day. Seeking asylum is not a choice when you're living like that. She then made an impassioned plea:
"Please Mr Abbott, open the door!"
[content warning: description of children in physical and emotional pain, r*pe]
The next speaker was also someone who had been to Syria; had actually seen what was happening over there. Ali Kadri, of the Islamic Council of QLD. He made a point to say that he was at the event as a human being and as an Australian. He talked about how there are hundreds of Aylans suffering all over the world. When he went to Syria, he met Najeeb, a 7 year old boy who had lost his eyesight when a bomb dropped by the Assad Regime had hit nearby. Whenever he cried, the pain from the tears would make him pass out. When Ali asked the doctor why they didn't give him any pain medication, the doctor said that they kept the pain medications for the worst cases. The worst cases being children and people with burns over 80% of their bodies. He also met a young girl named Noor who was found by an activist after her mother was kidnapped while they were working in a field. Her mother was kidnapped, r*ped and killed. Noor was silent for two weeks, until she said that she misses her mother but that her mother had left her in a field by herself. Ali did not have the heart to tell her what had happened.
[end content warning]
Ali said that when he first came to Australia he was heartened by the compassion that he saw when people would call the RSPCA for a koala on the side of the road. He wanted to know why we weren't able to use that compassion for our fellow human beings, the refugees. He said that our politicians are not acting like Australians. He asked:
There are 4-5 million Syrians looking for a place to go, so why are we discriminating and only taking in 12,000?
Now it was time for all of the politicians to have their say. As they are the people who we have elected and who are ultimately making the decisions about refugees, it was interesting to see what they had to say to a crowd who obviously was dissatisfied with how things were currently being handled.
Our third speaker was Andrew Bartlett of the QLD Greens. He said thank you on behalf of the Greens (I'm not sure what for though). He spoke about how the momentum for change has been building up for quite some time, that the support shown for refugees since Aylan did not just appear out of nowhere. He asked us not to stop here - to keep acting with compassion. Andrew wrapped up by saying that our off shore detention centres must be closed; that the terrible abuse cannot be allowed to be continued, and that we cannot look away.
Speaker number four got a bit of an interesting introduction from our 4zzz host who gave us a list of some of the wrong doings of the Labor government with regards to refugees (e.g. reopening off shore detention centres ). Jackie Trad, a representative of the ALP and Member of South Brisbane, did not deny any of this, instead explaining how she wants to make changes in the future. She said that she was proud of QLD this week because she had heard that a lot of us had been calling refugee centres and offering up our homes. She said that it was because of people power, because of our actions, that 12,000 Syrian refugees were being allowed into the country.
Jane Prentice (Member for Ryan, LNP) then joined the stage with Terri Butler (Member for Griffith, Labor). Terri said nothing. As Jane started to talk, a few elements in the crowd started booing and yelling 'shame'. Jane soldiered on. She said that tonight was not about celebrating, that tonight was about working harder. She said that refugees are the strength of our community in Queensland. It was hard to make out some of what she was saying. As she finished and left, the crowd started chanting 'Close the camps'.
Now, I left a bit early, at 7:00pm. The event apparently wound up at around 7:20pm. I wish that there had been more people actually affected by displacement and violence able to speak tonight. I wish that there had been a bigger call to action, with perhaps the organisation of some groups that very night. Maybe I missed out on all of that in the last twenty minutes. Part of me wishes that we could put together boats of our own and sail out and escort refugees to Australia, to safety.
Are you wanting to do more for refugees? Please get in contact with the following fantastic organisations:
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