By Kendall Hutt in Auckland
Forty minutes of solidarity marked New Zealand’s stand with refugees imprisoned in Australia’s offshore detention centres across the Pacific today.
More than 60 people stood outside Australia’s Auckland consulate to protest over more than 1000 refugees stuck in limbo in processing centres likened to open-air prisons.
“The Australian government’s policies are inhumane, so we want to highlight the human. That the impact of Australia’s ill-treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees amounts to torture, but remind people that these refugees are humans too,” said Margaret Taylor, Amnesty New Zealand’s activism support manager.
“We’re humans standing out here to put a human face to the torture and highlighting how inhumane Australia’s policy is.”
Amnesty New Zealand’s Auckland spokesperson Meg de Ronde told Asia Pacific Report before the protest this morning:
“We’re sending a clear message to the Australian government that after four years the offshore detention centres have to close.
“The men, women and children who are on Manus and Nauru have to be evacuated now. We have more than 8000 New Zealanders who believe human rights abuses need to end,” de Ronde said.
8000 signature petition
In Wellington, more than 40 people also stood in solidarity while a petition with more than 8000 signatures was delivered to the Australian High Commission in a sister event also organised by Amnesty International New Zealand.
Since 2013, Australia has controversially and forcibly deported asylum seekers who have attempted to arrive in the country via boat to Manus and Nauru islands.
Therefore for four years, Amnesty International says, some of the “most vulnerable people in the world” have been subject to human rights abuses – physical abuse, sexual assault, poor living conditions – at the hands of Australia’s government.
De Ronde says the purpose of this morning’s protest was to ensure Australia has not forgotten the human rights abuses it is carrying out in its own backyard.
“We hope they’ll hear New Zealanders haven’t forgotten that for four years Australia’s been holding people on Manus and Nauru, people that have a right to be resettled and have a right to flee and seek safety.”
It is Australia’s reported human rights abuses which drew people of all walks of life to the protest.
Armed with placards calling for the closure of Manus and Nauru’s centres, the group of men, women and children silently protested outside the consulate while passing motorists tooted their horns in a show of support.
‘Ridiculous’ detention centres
Alex O’Connor of Lush Cosmetics said it was “ridiculous” detention centres even existed.
“I think it’s just ridiculous they still have these detention centres when there’s all these human rights abuses happening.
“I also think it’s just ridiculous that people don’t have access to basic human rights when they’re fleeing war-torn areas.”
Marika Czaja is so disappointed in Australia’s refugee policy she intends to return her citizenship papers.
“I’m going to say ‘no thank you’. I don’t want to be part of it, not in my name’.
“I’ve got no option but to protest. One of the more powerful countries in the world is boasting how it took in half a million or so refugees after World War II and now they can’t take in a few thousand. It’s just despicable. I really haven’t got the words to explain how I feel about it all,” Czaja said.
The youngest protester was four-year-old Atlas de Ronde.
‘Issue for everyone’
His father, Edwin de Ronde, said the detention centres on Manus and Nauru were an “issue for everyone”.
“We feel for what it must be like for people with children stuck in some of these concentration camps and I think everyone needs to understand that it could be them one day too, so they’ve got to stand up against what’s going on.”
Echoing earlier calls by Amnesty New Zealand executive director Grant Bayldon, de Ronde called on New Zealand to condemn Australia’s actions and remain firm in its commitment to resettle 150 refugees a year – a commitment Australia is currently reluctant to indulge.
“New Zealanders – neighbours of Australia – need to stand up in this region as the voice of what needs to be done.
“I hope the Australian government understands that they’re out of step with the rest of the world and what they’re doing is simply wrong and it’s against international law.”
Takapuna Grammar students Alba Garcia and Anna Jacobs were also some of the protest’s younger participants.
They told Asia Pacific Report the proximity of the issue to New Zealand was “shocking”.
Close to home
“It has just kind of shocked everyone how close it is to home,” Jacobs said of her school’s Amnesty Club.
“Everyone needs to be aware of it because it’s not very far away from us,” Garcia added.
But in calling for the closure of Manus and Nauru on the streets of Auckland today, de Ronde thanked protesters for not forgetting the islands’ refugees, but also encouraged them to make New Zealand politicians and political parties more aware of the issue.
“Ask our Prime Minister, our government in this election year to carry these messages.”
Joining hands in solidarity may have marked the end of the protest today, but with Broadspectrum’s contract up in October – the company responsible for administering the offshore processing system – protest to these centres is sure to continue, Amnesty said.
Krishna Narayanan, a food science student with the University of Auckland, is certain widespread protest will continue until Australia reverses its policy on Manus and Nauru detention.
“Refugees are just locked up and they feel incredibly isolated and depressed. They escaped war and tried to come to a place of safety, but they’re not safe.
“My message to those inside the Australian consulate here and Australia’s government is accept refugees or at least let other nations accept them.
“Don’t cover this up.”