Protestors Gather In Australia Against Refugee Deportations

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Government plan to return 270 asylum seekers to Nauru challenged

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 5, 2016) – Protesters have gathered in cities around the country calling on the Federal Government not to deport almost 270 asylum seekers to Nauru.

The biggest protest on Thursday was in Melbourne, where more than 2,000 people gathered outside the State Library before staging a sit-in outside the nearby Department of Immigration office.

The gatherings were in response to Wednesday's High Court ruling Australia's offshore detention at Nauru and Manus Island is legal.

It cleared the way for 267 asylum seekers, including more than 30 babies, who were brought to Australia for medical treatment, to be returned to Nauru.

"Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here," the crowd in Melbourne chanted.

Demonstrators also gathered in Sydney, Adelaide and Perth, while smaller rallies were held in Canberra, Newcastle and the Victorian city of Bendigo.

Protesters were expected to meet in Brisbane and Hobart on Friday.

In Canberra, several hundred people gathered in the centre of the city on Northbourne Avenue, to express their dissatisfaction with the Government's asylum seeker policies.

Former ACT Chief Minister and one-time administrator of Christmas Island, Jon Stanhope, was among the speakers at the rally.

Mr Stanhope, who is a member of the Labor Party, has been openly critical of both his own party's policies on offshore detention and of the Liberal Party's policies.

Protesters also gathered at the Immigration Residential Housing centre near the Perth airport to voice their displeasure.

Organisers said families detained in Perth would be directly affected by the High Court decision, including a Syrian family with a young baby and several married couples who were brought to Australia from Nauru to receive medical treatment.

Earlier in Sydney, protester Kay Ashton said she was ashamed of the Government's treatment of asylum seekers.

"They're just destroying people's lives," she said.

"We are just calling on them to reverse it, show some gumption, show some leadership for goodness sake."

Former immigrant Angelika Treichler said she was shocked at the Government's policy.

"I'm very, very upset that this country I've chosen to live in is now carrying out such a cruel, cruel policy. I can't believe it in fact," Ms Treichler said.

[PIR editor’s note: On Feb. 5, 2016 RNZI reported that ‘The Nauru government says claims about the country not being fit for child asylum seekers to return from Australia are offensive lies. ... In a statement, the justice minister David Adeang said some Australian leaders are peddling lies in order to achieve a political agenda. ... He said any claims sending children back to Nauru is like child abuse is dishonest, unconscionable and outrageous, and an insult to all people on Nauru. ...Mr Adeang said refugee families are safe, well supported and treated with great respect.’]

The High Court case was launched by a Bangladeshi detainee on Nauru who was brought to Australia for treatment and later gave birth to her daughter in Brisbane.

Lawyers for the woman argued it was illegal for the Australian Government to fund and operate detention centres in a third country.

During the High Court case the Government changed the law to close a loophole in the funding arrangements, which it feared could be undermined by the challenge.

On Wednesday, a majority of the court's bench found the current government arrangements were valid under the constitution.

One of the children facing return to Nauru is a five-year-old boy allegedly raped at the detention centre, but Mr Dutton said he would take concerns from doctors about the boy's welfare into consideration.

More than 50 of the 70 children who are at risk of being forcibly sent to Nauru are being held at Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin.

Then on Thursday Australian Human Rights Commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs released a report on the findings of two doctors who interviewed 69 families with children at Wickham Point.

The report found children were being seriously damaged by being held in detention, and the doctors treating them described the children as the most traumatised they have seen in 50 years.

The Government of Nauru hit back at what it described as "inflammatory language" during the asylum seeker debate.

Justice Minister David Adeang said refugee families were safe and treated with great respect, and claims otherwise were an insult to every Nauruan citizen.

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