Bendigo residents voiced their frustration with the government’s asylum seeker policies last night through a vigil to honour Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati.
The fear factor is being used as a political weapon
Bendigo residents protest refugee policies
About 130 people lit candles at Rosalind Park as part of protest group GetUp!’s ‘light the dark’ movement, which is calling for a royal commission to investigate Mr Berati’s death.
Mr Berati died during a riot at a detention centre on Manus Island last Monday.
The government has not yet determined exactly what happened during the incident, but has confirmed that more than 60 detainees were injured.
Tash Joyce, a Bendigo resident who organised the Rosalind Park vigil, said the turnout made her feel hopeful that people in Bendigo cared about refugees.
“It’s been heart-warming,” she said.
“That’s a pretty big indication of the depth of feeling in Bendigo.”
But she also said Australia’s refugee policies saddened her.
“I get scared that it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse,” she said.
Sue Nuttall of Rural Australians for Refugees said offshore processing for asylum seekers was “absurd”.
“I can’t stand putting people on Manus Island,” she said.
“A person who was in our care was killed."
Former Bendigo mayor Willi Carney, who was also at the vigil, said the government should process asylum seekers onshore.
She said both major political parties had appalling asylum seeker policies.
“The fear factor is being used as a political weapon,” she said.
“Both parties ought to be ashamed of themselves.”
Other attendees included churchgoers from Neale Street Uniting Church and St Matthew’s Church in Long Gully.
Vern Wall, member of Neale Street Uniting Church, said the government's asylum seeker policies were an affront to his Christian beliefs.
"Both parties are competing to see who can be the meanest," he said.
Dave Fagg, member of St Matthew’s church, said he was planning to start a Bendigo asylum seeker lobby group.
He said the group would hold its first meeting this Wednesday at the church hall.
GetUp! communications director Matt Levinson said his organisation was calling for journalists to be allowed access to detention centres.
The Bendigo vigil was one of the hundreds held around the country.
Attendees held a minute's silence for Mr Berati before singing Amazing Grace.