Refugee protesters march on Bendigo MPs’ offices to condemn Manus Island policy

Refugee rights activists demanding resettlement for 600 men languishing on Manus Island were met with locked doors when they marched to the offices of federal Bendigo MPs today.  

A group of more than 60 protesters attempted to deliver to the offices of MP Lisa Chesters and senator Bridget McKenzie a letter in which they claim the treatment of Manus Island asylum seekers was “devastating, divisive and detrimental for the Australian community”. 

“It is in the best interest of Australians, politicians and non-politician alike, to finish the victim-blaming and resettle the people stuck on Manus and Nauru,” the letter read. 

“Please let these proven refugees (to) move on with their lives. Please let us stop blaming and punishing the victims who simply asked us for safety.”

But the group, consisting largely of members from groups Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children and Regional Australians for Refugees, were unable to submit their letters for consideration, finding both offices closed on arrival. 

Organiser Di O’Neil described the shutdown as “over the top”.

“It was just going to be two people delivering the letter, and the group stay outside,” Ms O’Neill said. 

She was, however, impressed by turnout for the march, believing it was some participants’ first time protesting refugee policy. 

Ms Chesters said after the protest she too was “frustrated and heartbroken” by the Manus situation, calling the federal government’s treatment of the asylum seekers “inhumane”. 

But it was only immigration minister Peter Dutton and the government that could end the crisis, she said.

“Tragically, human rights violations have become the norm in our country since the Liberals have come to power and we cannot ignore what is occurring onshore or offshore,” she said.

“Doing nothing is not an option.”

Ms McKenzie’s office was contacted for comment. 

The asylum seekers on Manus Island remain barricaded inside their decomissioned detention centre despite the Papua New Guinean authorities cutting off their food and water supplies. 

The men believe it is safer to remain in the camp than risk attacks from locals in nearby township Longerau where accommodation is being offered.