We have had a challenging year and 2016 doesn’t look as if it will be less so. Nevertheless we feel there are definite signs of progress on our side and weaknesses on the side of the pro-cruelty movement (which includes the leaderships of both major political parties). First, let’s just take a look at what RAC actually did in 2015.
Events planned and presented by RAC during 2015
We organized and hosted the Refugee Advocacy & Welfare Conference, for 2 days in March. The keynote speaker was Kon Karapanagiotidis from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Melbourne. Attendance was several hundred. We received much positive feedback.
We held many footpath protests outside the Department of Immigration & Border Protection. These included a demand for justice on the first anniversary of the murder of Reza Berati at Manus Island; a protest against the dreadful treatment of Abyan, the woman who was raped at Nauru, and became pregnant, then shunted around like a chess pawn while her wishes for an abortion, which she wanted at a time of her choosing, were systematically ignored and rejected by the minister, Peter Dutton; also we stood in solidarity with Christmas Island detainees who rioted after the (almost certain) suicide of one of their number, the Iranian detainee Fazel Chegeni. We also protested the failure to allow Hatami, Kurdish detainee at Nauru, to come to Australia to get treatment for a difficult pregnancy.
We also held several footpath protests outside Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s electorate office at Strathpine. These were held at peak hour in the morning. The response from the passing traffic was extraordinarily positive, and occasionally we got media attention. We organized the Palm Sunday rally in King George Square together with Just Peace Qld; we organised a refugee rights contingent in the Labour Day march and handed out a leaflet connecting the struggle for refugee rights to the struggle for union rights; and we organized the World Refugee Day rally & march.
We held a rally in King George Square to protest against Tony Abbott’s “nope, nope, nope” to saving the lives of Rohingyan asylum seekers who were drowning offshore. We also held a public meeting to explain and expose and encourage people to defy, the Border Force Act. We picketed a speech given by Senator Michaelia Cash, then assistant Immigration Minister, to a community organization at Redcliff. She was speaking against violence against women. Many of those attending had no idea of the viciousness of the policies the assistant minister was imposing on women in detention.
We hosted a book launch for “Uncovering Forgotten Cities” by Abdon Dantas. The forgotten cities of the title are the many refugee camps across the globe.
We organized a fundraising concert for ourselves and the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS), together with Phil Monsour. We’re sure everyone who attended enjoyed a wonderful evening. Also we raised some funds both for the campaign, and for the legal assistance that RAILS gives.
RAC support for the Free Mojgan campaign
RAC has often given support to campaigns run by other organizations. In the past we have given support to many events held by church groups, to the MP office occupations by the “Love makes a way” activist group, and to various events held by Amnesty International and Get Up. The outstanding campaign held by another group during 2015, which RAC wholeheartedly supported, was the campaign to free Mojgan. Mojgan Shamsalipoor was the young asylum seeker detained at Pinkenba who was allowed to pursue Senior studies at Yeronga State High School. Weeks before she was due to graduate she was suddenly arrested and sent to a detention centre in Darwin. So far, no reason has been given. But the Yeronga High community rallied to her cause. Students, staff, the P&C Association and, most importantly, the Qld Teachers’ Union, have rebelled against what has been done to this very popular student. It is arguably the first time that any major union has taken up the refugee rights cause in such a determined and concerted way. RAC has helped in any way we can, both by helping to publicize campaign events and by being present at all of the public events.
RAC street stalls
We held several street stalls during the year. Most of them were on Saturday mornings at the West End markets at Davies Park. We also had stalls at the World Refugee Day festival at the Annerley sports field and at the Einbunpin Festival at Sandgate. The stalls are an important way of relating to the public. If only we had a bigger volunteer base we could think about doing them on a regular weekly basis.
Visiting the Pinkenba detention centre
RAC regularly visits the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) at Pinkenba. This is Brisbane’s own small detention centre. We invite anyone of goodwill to join us in our visits. This has proceeded regularly all through 2015 and will continue in 2016. Anyone who wants to join us should contact Mark, who organizes the visits. Ph. 0439 561 196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
RAC’s role in the broad refugee rights movement
On occasion, RAC Qld, in association with interstate RAC groups and other similar refugee rights activist groups, has an opportunity to take a leading role in the public discourse about refugee and asylum seeker rights. Among asylum seekers, both offshore and onshore, activists from RAC and similar groups have developed a word-of mouth reputation for reliability. Quite often it is groups like us who first get news of outrages happening in detention centres and elsewhere. Just occasionally our intervention can set in motion a process that changes things. The case of Abyan, the woman who was raped at Nauru and became pregnant is a case in point. It was RAC groups who raised the outrage committed on her in the media. Eventually, the government was forced to back down. She is now in Australia. RAC by itself could never have forced such a backdown. Our role was to raise the issue. The victory was won by many other groups, including medical workers and women’s groups, many of whom had never had anything to do with refugee issues, who were outraged that an Australian government could treat an abused woman with such contempt. This is an indication of how the whole refugee rights issue can be eventually won. Groups like RAC have an important role to play, but we will never win without many others becoming involved.
Please consider joining RAC
We have done so much during 2015 and we intend [to continue campaigning just as hard in 2016. There are signs the government is under increasing pressure about the brutal treatment of the asylum seekers in its care. The fact that Labor was prepared to differentiate themselves, however slightly, and call for Abyan's return, is an indication of growing public concern. There is still a long way to go but the more people involved in building the campaign, the better. Please consider getting more involved in the campaign in 2016. The best way to start your involvement is to come to the organizing meetings.]
Next organizing meeting
6.30pm, Wednesday 27th January, 2016, at 2nd floor, TLC Building, 16 Peel St, South Brisbane. This is the first meeting of the year, so if you have any agenda items you wish to have discussed, contact Margarett, email@example.com or 0410 337 884.