On the eve of Refugee Week, and in the lead-up to the national Walk Together events, Welcome to Australia reminds Australians of their part in allowing the policy of mandatory detention to continue for so long.
March to End Mandatory Detention events were held across Australia yesterday, marking 20 years since the practice of mandatory detention began for asylum seekers arriving by boat.
We must remember that this anniversary is not about “those people” who legislate for mandatory detention, or who operate the centres. It is about 20 years of you and I allowing this to go on in our name, paid for with our taxes.
It is not only about overturning mandatory detention. It goes deeper than that. We need to ask ourselves how we have allowed the formation of a culture that not only allows such practices to exist, but rewards them at the polls.
Welcome to Australia is a non-partisan volunteer organisation dedicated to “cultivating a culture of welcome in our nation” in recognition of the fact that Australia is a multicultural nation.
Members are reminded that despite their political persuasion or opinion on asylum seeker processing, Australian neighbourhoods are made up of asylum seekers, refugees and other new arrivals.
For the sake of social cohesion and future prosperity, according to the movement’s passionate advocates, it is essential that these people are given a real sense of belonging.
We need more than new policies, we need a new conscience; the collective conscience of a people who simply say of asylum seekers: “They are people like us”.
We must do more than come up with a better processing system, we must continually call out the best in the Australian character – our compassion, welcoming spirit, generosity and fairness – until we’ve reached the point where depriving a fellow human being of their rights no longer becomes a viable political option.
It is time to make prejudice unpopular. It is time to make cruelty hurt at the polling booths. It is time to do more than end mandatory detention – it’s time to end the culture of fear, division and discrimination that makes it possible and, indeed, rewards those who support it.
On Saturday, Welcome to Australia will host Walk Together events in 10 cities across all states and territories. We invite all members of the Australian community to join the walk as a celebration of diversity and a call for an end to the rhetoric of fear and division.
The events will be a visible demonstration of the nation that is possible when all people are willing to see the humanity in each other.
Belonging can’t be legislated or put out to tender. It is a gift given by a community that has been set free from fear.