Thousands opposing the detention of refugees in Pacific island camps rallied across Australia on Sunday.
Almost 4,000 people asked the government to increase its refugee intake, close the Manus Island and Nauru refugee camps and stop turning back the refugees that managed to reach the island.
Banners saying “Close Manus. Close Nauru,” and “Welcome refugees from Syria” were waived during the rally by demonstrators including people from unions, education institutions and religious groups.
The protests, which are a part of the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) campaign, drew large crowds in Sydney, while in Melbourne and Canberra between 1,000 to 2,000 people attended the rallies.
The protesters condemned the government's treatment of refugees. They also condemned the new Border Force Act, which could mean up to two years jail time for detention centre workers who disclose information about the conditions the refugees are held in.
RAC spokesman Ian Rintoul criticised the government's resettlement programme.
Rintoul pointed out that the government was in talks with the Philippines about resettling refugees there, noting that a similar deal was agreed with Cambodia.
Cambodia had agreed to resettle refugees from Australia in return for $55 million in development aid. Yet, the country has received only four refugees and said they are not willing to take any more refugees than have already been received.
“Attempting to bribe yet another poor regional country to violate the rights of asylum seekers will only lead to Australia trashing its already tarnished international image,” said Rintoul.
“There is no reason to believe that any more refugees will agree to the Philippines than have agreed to Cambodia,” he added.
An Australian Senate committee report published in early September said that the conditions in a detention center for refugees on the Pacific island of Nauru were inappropriate and unsafe for the detainees.
The report called on the Australian government to remove children from the detention center and improve living conditions at the center, which holds 630 asylum seekers.
The inquiry investigated allegations of rape and abuse. It said that journalists and rights workers should have reasonable media access to the center.
Australia’s policy of attempting to prevent asylum seekers from reaching its shores on boats has been controversial for a long time. The government has taken strict measures to stop an influx of refugees into the country, including the establishment of the off-shore detention centers.