Candlelit vigils were held in major cities around Australia on Wednesday night to mark the fourth consecutive year of operational Australian offshore detention centres and to call for an immediate evacuation of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.
Protest rallies in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart, as well as many regional towns, saw thousands of people take to streets. Using the hashtag #EvacuateNow, protesters voiced their frustration with Australia's offshore detention system and mourned the deaths that have occurred on Manus and Nauru since the opening of the centres.
"We have had nearly 2000 people who remain on Manus and Nauru, who have remained in limbo. Men and women and almost 169 children who still remain there, still in limbo," one speaker told the vigil in Melbourne.
"And that's why we're gathered here tonight -- to commemorate those who've been lost and to tell people that we stand there and we continue to stand there tonight on a freezing Melbourne night in the cold lighting a flame against this country's cruelty and forgetfulness at attempts to erase their fundamental humanity."
At the same time the vigils were happening around the country, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on 'The Project' to defend his government's handling of offshore processing of refugees and said that bringing asylum seekers to Australia could risk further people smuggling.
"The processing is under way. Now, so the question is, why have we not brought them to Australia? We know that if we do that, the people smugglers will use that as a marketing tool and the boats will start up again, the drownings will start up again," he said.
"It's been more than three years, or around three years since a successful people smuggling operation. So that's meant no unauthorised arrivals, which means we can take more people as refugees through the proper channels and it also means there will be nobody downing at sea."
Turnbull also put the four-year marker of the Manus Island and Nauru processing centres down to political failings under Kevin Rudd's Labor government, which he described as a "terrible mistake".
"Kevin Rudd created this problem. He abandoned John Howard's tough border protection policies. He knew what he was doing," he said.
"He was reckless and the result was 50,000 unauthorised arrivals, 1200 deaths at sea and of course, when he came back in his second coming as Prime Minister and he realised he made this terrible mistake, that's when he set up the arrangements at Manus and Nauru.
"Overwhelmingly, the people were put there by Kevin Rudd and we have been doing everything we can to resettle them and we've resettled some, but obviously a long way from all of them. We obviously have an arrangement with the US, which we're working through."
The vigils, which human rights advocate group GetUp! numbered at more than 55 across Australia, come in light of reports Manus Island asylum seekers not approved to resettle in the USA as part of Australia's resettlement deal could be declared illegal aliens by Papua New Guinea and deported -- possibly back to Australia.
Despite it being announced in November 2016 that the Turnbull Government had sealed a one-off deal with the U.S. to resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru detention centres in America, former MP for Manus Island, Ron Knight, told HuffPost Australia in April the plan was destined to fail -- claiming that the transit centre was already full and could not sustain another few hundred people -- and that locals would not support it.
July 2013 Agreement with PNG was for 1year only.Refugees should've been resettled in Oz by Abbott/Turnbull 3 yrs ago https://t.co/FYg0mm5TMi— Kevin Rudd (@MrKRudd) July 19, 2017
The acts of civil protest across the country also follow updates in June that a huge class action against the Federal Government on behalf of 1,900 asylum seekers detained on Manus Island has reached settlement, with Australia agreeing to a huge compensation payout of $70 million.
"After three years investigation and legal action, the Commonwealth and its subcontractors, G4S and Broadspectrum, have agreed to a settlement of $70 million plus costs," Slater and Gordon lawyer Andrew Baker told HuffPost Australia.
"The Senate said this was the largest settlement in a human rights class-action in Australian legal history and we think this is true.
"This settlement is an important step towards recognising the extremely hostile conditions the detainees endured at Manus Island."
More to come..
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