Sunday, January 18, 2015

Vigil for Martin

A retrospective post from Saturday 17th Jan

It’s just gone 1am. We thought there’d be torrential rain all night but the weather has been incredibly pleasant. 10 minutes ago the sky opened and delivered us a beautiful 5 minute shower, now it is gone and we are cool and sitting comfortably in the shade of the Department of Immigration building in Darwin. I am at an all-night vigil in support of the 100s of people held in Immigration Detention Centers in Australia, Nauru and Manus Island. In particular we are here because a man who has languished in indefinite detention and has been on hunger strike for weeks is now in a critical condition and we'd like him and others to know that there are Australian's willing to fight for their rights and we hope this gives them hope enough to end their strike.

Why choose to sit out all night outside a closed Government office while drunks argue in the streets around us, cars spin their tyres on the slippery roads and some clown just let off the loudest fire cracker I think I’ve ever heard? Well what else can we do? We continue to communicate with our MP's and the government by the usual means. Letters and petitions have been sent by the truck load and still people's lives are left in peril on Nauru and Manus Island! Children continue to be imprisoned, refugees continue to be returned to harm or locked up indefinitely. As asylum seekers they have very few rights under Australian Law and in this country at this time there is very little regard for the international treaties designed to protect the worlds most vulnerable people. Australians must step up and take action because the people whose lives are affected have no power, they  have no choice but to comply with the demands of their jailers or suffer arbitrary retribution for non compliance. They are in this situation because of Australian laws which completely disregard our international obligations. The fairness of Australian law is completely dependent on the whims of morally bankrupt politicians. Holding them to account is the responsibility of the Australian People, if our laws are unjust then it's up to us to do something about it, sticking up for asylum seekers is our responsibility. 

We gathered on Friday afternoon at 4pm At 5 someone turned their car radio up and we listened to the terrible news of a stand-off on Manus Island. Similar news had been filing through social media. Hungry asylum seekers behind bars, meals withheld for the night while security forces in full riot gear stand on the other side of a high wire fence waiting for the signal to move in! The radio report warned of something big about to happen. The men on Manus have been on hunger strike for days, some have sewn their lips together, images have been leaked of their faces, bloodshot eyes they look beaten, grim and without hope. There are constant reports of taunting and abuse from outside the camp and from the guards employed to watch over them.

The new Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's voice (forgive me if I drop the Honorable) is broadcast, sternly demanding that Advocates stop supporting the hunger strikers! This is the first time I've heard him speak, I've needed to take a break from media and am quickly reminded why I couldn't bear to listen to or watch the news! Sounds like the new Minister for Immigration is just as big a turd as the last one!
Dutton went further and suggested that refugee advocates must have put the idea into people's heads that they could get what they want by using hunger strikes and self harm as a tactic! Is this guy kidding? None of the asylum seeker advocates I have met would ever encourage anyone to commit any kind of self harm! We spend most our time trying to comfort and persuade people to hold on to whatever hope they have, self harm is sure sign that they have lost hope! We all felt worried after hearing the news about Manus, the situation was obviously deteriorating. After the news, the radio was turned off and we resumed our places on the footpath. 

As the night rolled on people came and went, most spending more than a couple of hours at the vigil. By midnight those who were not staying the night had left and a core group of 7 of us remained.
I enjoyed being outdoors for the night, it was a rare opportunity to sit and reflect on the situation and affirm my commitment to seeking justice. We talked a little, but mostly sat quietly until someone would walk past and ask us what we were doing. Oddly throughout the night we weren't approached by police or security guards.

I was dreading a confrontation with the violent drunks staggering out of the pubs at 5am which fortunately didn't happen. Very few people approached us. Kind of unexpectedly most of the people who did come by to see what we were doing were drunk but quite friendly. They were all men, that's not to say there weren't plenty of drunk women on the street but for some reason they just didn't approach us. Of course there were the inevitable arguments about security threats and who is or isn't a refugee etc...but mostly people were not threatening. A couple of guys sympathized with the cause, some asked reasonable questions but mostly I heard the same old stuff.
Through the night generous supporters have dropped by for a chat, some even bring coffee. As we sit this vigil there are similar events taking place around Australia. This is just one of the many things that must be done to keep the pressure on our Government for justice and fairness, although these have fallen off the national agenda while people continue to challenge the cruel policies of our government we are determined to have them returned!

Dawn 17th January 2015. Photo courtesy DASSAN


Chandra said...

'Fight' the good fight, David!
Peace :)

David J said...

Good on you Chandra. Our country has the means and the capacity to deal with the Refugee situation in a much more compassionate and enlightened way. Our country was built on immigration and has had a policy of population growth for many years. We actively encouraged skilled labor immigration at the expense of training Australians for work... Many of the refugees who have settled in our country have contributed greatly to our national identity and have served our country often with more commitment than those born here. Yet here we are actively harming innocent people for the sake of being seen to take a hard line on the people who brought them here! It's a bullshit situation and our compliance is corroding the very spirit of this country. If we are not the good guys then who must we be?