Bendigo refugee groups feel growing support as they gather signatures for Christmas letter to prime minister

Jan Govett, of Amnesty International, Di O'Neil, of the Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, and Helen Musk, of Rural Australians for Refugees. Picture: ADAM HOLMES
Jan Govett, of Amnesty International, Di O'Neil, of the Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children, and Helen Musk, of Rural Australians for Refugees. Picture: ADAM HOLMES

“We have same-sex marriage, now let’s get people out of indefinite detention!”

A passer-by on Pall Mall voiced her support for the work of Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children on Saturday morning.

It’s not an uncommon scene for the group, which feels public opinion is starting to shift in their direction on the plight of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

“We would receive far more positive comments than negative,” group convenor Di O’Neil said.

They were set up at the Saturday Farmers Market getting signatures for a Christmas letter to be sent to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull calling for the “immediate safe resettlement of the children, women and men on Nauru”, and the men held on Manus Island.

The letter is sent 12 months after the United States offered to resettle 1200 refugees. So far, just 52 have been resettled – the majority single men, who are cheaper to resettle than families.

The remainder are still in limbo.

A display was set up in Rosalind Park showing the small size and location of Nauru compared with Australia.

A display was set up in Rosalind Park showing the small size and location of Nauru compared with Australia.

Ms O’Neil said the situation became worse for refugees with every year that passed.

“Nauru is half the size of Melbourne Airport. The phosphate mining has finished, there are no jobs, no industry,” she said.

“For a six-year-old child, they would have spent three-quarters of their life waiting. The environment is not good for children, the health system is poor.”

With the developing crisis for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, a worsening famine in Yemen, growing instability in Nigeria, the continuing civil war in Syria, and other crises, the movement of refugees is unlikely to slow.

Ms O’Neil said “stopping the boats” had been proven to be a fallacy – boats were continuing to arrive, but government secrecy meant it was not being made public.

“There is still drowning at sea, just not in our seas,” she said.

“We’re sending a letter at Christmas time because both Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton claim to be Christians, but their policies are breaking up families and show no compassion.”

The Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children were joined by Amnesty and Rural Australians for Refugees in gathering signatures in Bendigo on Saturday morning.

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