Coordinated rallies in 16 cities and towns across Australia on Sunday attracted tens of thousands of people demanding that the government “stop the war on refugees.”
Protesters, including church groups, community organisations, students, families and activists, marched in solidarity for “justice for refugees” and the end of offshore detention centres.
The Palm Sunday "Welcome Refugee rallies" in Australia were just some of the many held across the globe, with similar protests taking place in Greece, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Catalonia, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom.
The weekend before the Christian Easter has traditionally become a time of protest for peace and compassion for vulnerable people worldwide.
Many of the protesters held aloft banners carrying the message “let them stay,” which referenced the 267 people brought from the offshore Pacific island detention centres on Manus or Nauru to Australia for medical treatment to be allowed to stay.
Refugee advocates say public opinion regarding Australia’s offshore detention policy is changing.
The country presently detains asylum seekers arriving by boat, referred to as “illegals” by the Federal Government, on Manus and Nauru and has an agreement with the Cambodia to resettle some of those who have been defined by the UNHCR as “refugees” in the Southeast Asian country, and has been in recent discussions with Iran to send some of those fleeing the country back home.
On Sunday, Daniel Webb, of the Human Rights Law Centre, told the Melbourne rally that he thought such protests were making a difference.
He said that medical staff refusing to discharge a baby born in an offshore detention center from the Lady Cilento hospital in Brisbane is just one example of the changing attitude.
Doctors at Lady Cilento children’s hospital are refusing to discharge the one-year-old, known as Asha, who is being treated for burns sustained at Nauru, as they do not believe the center provides a safe environment for children.
"We have seen over 100 churches around Australia open their doors and offer sanctuary to people at risk of deportation," he told a vocal crowd gathered in Melbourne's central business district on Sunday.
“We've seen every single state premier, every single state premier, support calls for [Australian Prime Minister] Malcolm Turnbull to show some compassion," he said.
“And then there's you right now, around Australia, tens of thousands of people are standing together to demand better.”