Fourth Anniversary for #StopTheShame
Friday 2 October marks four years since this group of justice advocates first hit the street. With well over
200 vigils under their belt, “Rural Australians for Refugees Shoalhaven – #StopTheShame” group isn’t giving up on supporting refugees and asylum seekers or their efforts to change Australia’s cruel immigration policies.
For its beginnings, credit must be given to Rev. Dr David Millikan, a retired Uniting Church minister, for putting into action his long-held frustration with the Australian Government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and initiating the group, in collaboration with Susan Locke of Amnesty Berry.
David was one of three Uniting Church ministers at the inaugural meeting, but it has never been a group tied to a denomination. We have had ministers and members of other denominations take part, including Anglicans, Catholics and Baptists, as well as people from as her faiths and none.
It was 1 October 2016 when members of #StopTheShame started a vigil, outside then federal member for Gilmore Anne Sudmalis’ office, in Nowra. Prior to this, meetings had been held to organise placards, banners, a Facebook page and a petition. Our group maintained the commitment to the Friday weekly vigil and were soon joined by members of other human rights groups, social justice advocates and other like-minded, concerned citizens. In that time, we have collected over 3,000 signatures to our petitions, an indication of the humanitarian concerns of our community.
We have joined RAR (Rural Australians for Refugees) and have made connections with many other like-minded groups such as ARAN (Australian Refugee Action Network), ASRC (Asylum Seeker Resource Centre) and refugee action groups in the Illawarra and Eurobodalla.
The refugees we have been specifically campaigning for have been imprisoned in Australia’s cruel offshore detention centres, Manus and Nauru since 2013. During this time their human rights, set out in the United Nations Convention on Refugees, have been obliterated. The many cruelties perpetrated are written about in Behrooz Bouchani’s award-winning novel “No Friend but the Mountain”, and viewed in his film Chauka, both of these brilliantly and painstakingly created on a smuggled mobile phone. There are still 181 refugees in Port Moresby and 180 on Nauru.
As our government has broken international laws pertaining to refugees with its treatment of those in offshore detention, we the people, need to work for their right to have their asylum seeker status claims processed onshore. One would ask our government, having spent more than $13 billion on unlawfully keeping the refugees out of our country, to what end? According to Julian Burnside, AO, QC, the Border Force has sent back many boats already. Our country needs hardworking, resilient people, especially in small country towns. Consider how the Biloela community fought for the rights of the Tamil refugee family in their community.
Since a visit by David Millikan to Port Moresby, we are currently fundraising and sending money to Caritas to support the men to buy food and other essentials.
The Friday vigils have been on hold for many months because of the bushfire season and Covid-19 restrictions. However, we will be resuming our vigils on Friday 9 October. We will, of course, be observing COVID safe practices, including wearing masks. We have designed our own masks and these will be for sale.
With thanks to Caro Davis, for permission to reproduce parts of the original article upon which this article is based.