Paddington Uniting Church was packed out last night as 140 people from across Sydney turned up to take action for justice for asylum seekers.
People heard about and signed up for a wide range of activities with organisations such as Amnesty International Australia, Welcome to Australia, ChilOut, End Child Detention Australia and the Refugee Action Coalition.
The Church’s Mission Development Manager, Justin Whelan, said the event was held in response to a sense of despair in the community over current asylum seeker policy, and a common yearning for a more just and compassionate response to people fleeing persecution.
“We organised this event because we were so concerned about what’s happening in the national debate about asylum seekers, and wanted to know ourselves what we could do to channel our anger and frustration into something constructive and positive,” Mr Whelan said.
“As we started talking to other people, we discovered there were many others asking the same questions. The response from the community far exceeded our hopes. We’re just blown away.”
Suggested actions ranged from intentional myth-busting conversations amongst friends and family through to nonviolent direct action. Participants pledged to help organise and promote several public events, such as the Walk Together in June and the national Detention 4 Detention campaign with high school students.
Attendees also heard from four Sri Lankan asylum seekers on bridging visas, three of whom face years in limbo under the current “No Advantage” test. The men spoke of their fear of government persecution if they’re returned home, the gut-wrenching decision to leave their families in search of safety, the dangerous journey by boat and the confusion and sense of hopelessness they now feel as scapegoats of the Australian Government’s policy of deterrence.
Emma Searle, who attended the event, said she came because she wanted to hear about practical ways to take action.
“Meeting lots of other people that were interested in taking action was very encouraging. It was exciting to find out about events that are happening, from conversations to marches, to really practical and friendly ways to welcome refugees to our community,” Ms Searle said.
The event, Asylum Seeker Policy: From Despair to Action, was held as part of the Paddington Social Change Project.
Below are some photos of the night taken by Siobhan Marren of Uniting Justice: