The Guardian • Issue #1956

Palm Sunday: Melbourne walks in solidarity with refugees

On Sunday, the 28th March was Palm Sunday, an important day on activist calendars for groups across the political spectrum. The Palm Sunday march is held each year on the Sunday before Easter in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and other cities across the country. It began several decades ago as a peace march against war and nuclear armament but has since developed into a platform for fighting for justice for refugees.

In Melbourne this year, speakers unanimously called for humane treatment of refugees by the Australian government, calling out the hypocrisy of “fair go” rhetoric in Australian political discourse. Those seeking asylum in this country are never given a fair go. Their rights are violated every day in contravention of basic human decency and international law.

Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of the Holy Week leading up to Easter. It marks the day on which Jesus arrived in Jerusalem before he was crucified. In the Gospels, Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praise of the townspeople who threw palm fronds in front of him in homage. For this reason, Christians at the Palm Sunday rallies carry palm fronds as a symbol that their participation in the fight for refugees is an expression of their faith.

But Palm Sunday is not a purely Christian occasion. Other faith groups were also represented at the march. Leaders from the Jewish, Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities all spoke at the rally. Many activist and community groups were also present including Grandmothers for Refugees, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Action Collective and Rural Australians for Refugees.

Mostafa Azimbitar, commonly known as Moz, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee who was recently freed after 8 years in detention, spoke to the crowd and led a rendition of “We Are Australian.” He was followed by Sr Brigid Arthur of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, who spoke about the struggles of those on bridging visas. Julian Burnside, a QC and member of the Australian Greens, spoke about his experiences advocating for refugees in the wake of 9/11 and the Tampa incident.

The march proceeded peacefully down Lygon St, before coming to a halt at the Park Hotel in Carlton where 7 refugees brought to Australia under the medevac legislation are still detained. The public response from onlookers was overwhelmingly positive with motorists beeping their horns in support and diners on Lygon St waving and cheering.

At the conclusion of the march, there were more speeches from survivors of Australia’s brutal immigration system. As has been happening for the past few months now, the pavement outside the Park Hotel was chalked with messages in support of the seven men imprisoned there.

The CPA stands in support of the rights of refugees to seek asylum in Australia. We condemn the cruel treatment of refugees as a violation of human rights and International Law. We ought also to join Sr Brigid in our sincere hope that in 2022 Palm Sunday will be a day to celebrate substantial change for the better and commit ourselves to fight for justice for all people seeking protection within our borders. Seeking asylum is not a crime.

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