Refugee Action Collective response to #itstimetolistencampaign
Refugee and asylum seeker voices are vital and should be central in the campaign to end Australia’s cruel policies against them. To attend and leave the Palm Sunday rally with confidence to continue the fight, people at the rally need to hear the voices of refugees- and to that end there are three refugees speaking; Abdul-hadi Matar, a refugee and Sudanese community leader from Darfur, Nasir Yousafi from the Hazara community, and an audio message from Aziz from Manus. Knowing the brutality they face is essential, and their resistance in the face of extraordinary repression is inspiring. They give confidence to other refugees and people from their communities to speak out.
The growing refugee movement is acutely aware of how important this is, and is always working to amplify refugee voices and support new refugee activist leaders.
What kind of movement do we need to end refugee racism?
It will take a mass, grassroots movement to end refugee detention and deterrence. Rallies like Palm Sunday are a chance to build the political confidence of everyone in the movement to lead action and spread defiance of refugee racism. The movement needs to make the bipartisan offshore detention policies politically and practically untenable. We can make this happen by building the breadth and depth of opposition. Rallies help to build the confidence of workers to refuse to participate in brutal policies, as doctors at Lady Cilento, teachers and health workers, and social workers have done.
Refugee leaders like Aziz on Manus have directly implored people in Australia to attend the rally. Palm Sunday in 2016 helped spark 200 days of protest on Nauru, the refugees there saw themselves as being “with” the Palm Sunday mobilisations in Australia.
Who are the non-refugee speakers, and why give them a platform?
To show solidarity and build a powerful movement we need political ideas and defiant collective action. We need to show unity across cultural divides, and to spread our grassroots organizing power.
As a former teacher on Nauru, Jane Willey is another speaker with insight into the conditions of the offshore camps. She also sets an example of courageous action; her defiance of the Border Force Act was an inspiration for hundreds of teachers across Victoria to defy threats of sackings to participate in the Teachers for Refugees t-shirt action. We can intensify the political and practical crisis of detention by spreading organisation and defiance across other sectors.
Corinne Grant uses her platform in mainstream media to promote uncompromising opposition to refugee brutality. Her union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, is campaigning for colleagues- an actor, a cartoonist and journalist, held on Manus. Other unions could replicate this, using their social weight to pressure the government to release their colleagues.
Having Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders speak indicates united, widespread opposition. Their leadership can provide an opening for people in those communities to deepen their action. The fusion of Islamophobia and refugee racism means we must arm all refugee campaigners with anti-islamophobia politics. For this reason, it is particularly important to have Mohamed Mohideen, President of the Islamic Council of Victoria on the platform.
Daniel Webb’s experience in the Human Rights Legal Centre helps expose the government’s treatment cruel treatment of refugees as contemptuous of their own, and other countries’, laws. It also shows that court action must be embedded in movements. Legal successes need to be known, however Manus Island detention camp was declared illegal last April; and yet it is still imprisoning men. When legal action failed to block the government returning refugees to Nauru last year, the grassroots “Letthemstay” campaign ensured that it was politically impossible for Turnbull to send them back. We need to hear from those like Webb who argue legal battles must be backed up with grassroots, political battles. Details of the ongoing court action over Manus, can also help paint a picture of an offshore processing regime falling apart at the seams.
Finally, having Chris Breen speak from the Refugee Advocacy Network about how we can close the camps is essential. The weak Turnbull government, the defensive delaying tactics of the US deal, the small but insufficient cracks in the Labor Party are important political questions our movement must confront. Urging people to join the next work place t-shirt action, initiate union campaigns and get involved in organizing groups is an important way to end the rally so that the movement grows.
There is a refugee leadership on Manus and Nauru, amongst communities such as the Tamils, Iranians, Hazara, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Kurds, West Papuans and more, whose voices the growing refugee movement has helped to highlight. They speak at forums, rallies, schools and workplaces throughout the year at events organised by many of the constituent groups of RAN. Every single refugee community may not be represented at any one rally, but the biggest possible Palm Sunday rally boosts their confidence and their voices far beyond the one rally itself.
All groups in the refugee movement share the common commitment to work to end the government’s racist and cruel policies. The #itstimetolisten campaign risks throwing a cloud over what is the main refugee rally of the year. And we are the strongest when we fight together. RISE was invited to the organising committee and could have been involved in all aspects of the rally organising, including speaker selection from the beginning.
We would urge RISE and Democracy in Colour to cease its public campaign and become part of the democratic organizing that has made the Palm Sunday rallies a high point of the refugee campaign.