Members of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group (BMRSG) took their campaign to the Windsor office of Macquarie MP, Susan Templeman, on Thursday, July 19.
The gathering was part of a national day of vigils held around Australia to mark the deaths of 12 male asylum seekers in permanent offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.
Twelve empty chairs and 12 pairs of shoes were placed outside Ms Templeman’s office to represent the death of each of the young men. Many of the men, aged between 23 and 34 years old, died from suicide, including overdose and self-immolation.
The attendees acknowledged those who had died, reading aloud their names and cause of death. A minute’s silence was held in commemoration for each of the dead men.
The vigils, named ‘Five Years Too Many’, also marked the fifth consecutive year of refugees and asylum seekers being incarcerated in these centres, established on July 19, 2013.
Joy Connor from BMRSG said sharing the stories of the young men who have died helps correct misinformation because “when you don’t know, you make decisions about people which can be very hurtful”.
Ms Connor spoke of “five years of Australian history of which none of us are proud”. She described the vigil as a way to “acknowledge and show respect for the young men who died in seeking safety”.
“The only way for these 12 men to escape ever present danger was by boat, and so they lost their lives in offshore prison islands,” she said.
Ms Connor said “there is a better way to manage the flow of refugees, who at the moment are flooding the planet due to wars, famine and persecution”.
“We can’t take everyone but we can do what we do better.”
Peter Lammiman, who attended the Windsor vigil, said attendees felt “moved” to take part in remembering the 12 asylum seekers.
“The sheer inhumanity of the treatment by the Australian government of people seeking refuge from horror is appalling in its lack of acknowledging their human rights,” he said.
Susan Templeman was hosting a Medicare forum in Katoomba during the vigil but provided a statement which was read out at the event.
In the statement, the Labor MP said it was “disgraceful that five years into the Abbott/Turnbull Government, there has been so little progress in providing safe resettlement options for those in our care in Manus and Nauru”.
“The situation is a human rights catastrophe, which people suffering from severe physical and mental illness and Labor continues to urge the Turnbull Government to step up and take action to protect the safety of people on Manus.”
Ms Templeman said offshore detention was only ever meant to be a short term measure. “No one should still be in detention on Nauru, nor living on Manus Island. Every man, woman and child found to be a refugee should have been resettled in a safe third country long before now.”
BMRSG members, along with members of Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, also held a protest outside the office of Lindsay MP Emma Husar.
The MPs also received an open letter from BMRSG and the group Rural Australians for Refugees highlighting their concern for the current policy of deterrence but also questioning the way in which refugees and asylum seekers being held in Australia are treated. This included recent decisions by the federal government to cut benefits to those living in Australia while applying for refugee status.
The Gazette has contacted the federal government for comment.