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Victory for the refugee-rights movement

Afghan refugee and Free the Refugees Campaign activist Riz Wakil spoke to a 3000-strong rally in Sydney on June 20, World Refugee Day. The following is an abridged version of his speech.

This year, the refugee-rights movement in this country has had an important victory. It has forced a change in the Coalition governmentís treatment of one group of asylum seekers and refugees. Over the last couple of months, around 80% of Afghan refugees ó who have been trying to survive on the inhumane temporary protection visas (TPV), living with constant insecurity and deprived of many basic rights ó have been granted permanent residency. I am one of those lucky ones.

This would not have happened if it was not for the uncompromising commitment and active campaigning ó the public meetings, the many rallies and marches, the organising in schools and communities ó of the refugee-rights movement.

The government would have been much happier sending us all back to Afghanistan, but the breadth and strength of the movement ó its refusal to be silenced by empty promises and by the politiciansí and media lies ó made it impossible for John Howard and his mates to get their way.

It is important that we ó the movement ó recognise this victory, because it tells us that we can force the government to back down, even on issues about which this government is most rabid.

That is important because the movement is more needed now than ever. There are still hundreds of asylum seekers, including many children, locked up in the detention centres. There are still thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have not been granted permanent residency, let alone citizenship rights. And there are still millions of traumatised and oppressed people outside of Australia in need of a safe haven.

The movement must not rest on this small victory for Afghan refugees. It must not stop speaking out, organising and growing, until mandatory detention is abolished and every detention centre is closed, until TPVs are abolished and the so-called Pacific Solution is dismantled. It must keep campaigning until the Australian government, whichever party wins the next election, repeals every single piece of anti-refugee legislation that has been introduced by Labor and the Liberals over the last decade.

We have to ensure that any more boats are welcomed; that peoples suffering from war, poverty and persecution in any other country know they can find sanctuary and a better life in Australia.

At the moment, Australian government policy is doing exactly the opposite. Itís not just that the government is making it almost impossible for asylum seekers to get to Australia. It is also, in every area of foreign policy, creating countless more refugees.

The governmentís active support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq; its theft of East Timorís oil (the Timorese peopleís main escape from poverty); its support for oppressive military regimes in Asia and South America, and so on ó all this creates more suffering, more destruction, more displacement and more refugees.

In my home country of Afghanistan, Australiaís role ó part of the US-led ďwar on terrorĒ ó hasnít improved anything for the people there. War is raging in many parts of the country, war-crimes remain unpunished, democracy has not been restored, and women are still deprived of their basic human rights to study, vote and choose their life partner.

Here in Australia, the Liberal and Labor partiesí enthusiastic support for the ďwar on terrorĒ is creating second-class citizens ó Muslims and people of Middle Eastern background are being portrayed and treated as untrustworthy, or violent, or outright terrorists. Racism and fear is being whipped up to divide us one from the other, and to justify federal Coalition and state Labor governmentsí withdrawal of our civil liberties.

The more Australians who are scared and distrustful of people from different ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions, the more the government will be able to get away with both its brutal foreign policies of war and exploitation in other countries and its brutal domestic policies of imprisoning refugees and anyone else that it suits it to.

So long as the poor countries of the world are economically controlled and exploited by the rich, militarily powerful countries like Australia, Britain and the US, poverty, religious extremism and persecution by the imperialistsí puppet regimes will force people to flee their countries as refugees.

The governments of the rich countries will not hesitate to tell numerous lies to justify these crimes against humanity ó whether lies about asylum seekers throwing their children overboard or lies about weapons of mass destruction and prisoner abuse in Iraq. We must not let them get away with it anymore.

By taking to the streets we are exposing and rejecting the politiciansí lies, and we are encouraging others to also take a stand, to join with us in demanding ó like [Big Brotherís] Merlin: Free the refugees!

From Green Left Weekly, June 30, 2004.


RAHA- World Independent Writers' Home, Afghanistan Center, In Exile



KP/27/June/ /2004

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