Lismore Amnesty Action Group hold a vigil outside Kevin Hogan's office - along with other activists around the country - to mark five  years of offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers.
Lismore Amnesty Action Group hold a vigil outside Kevin Hogan's office - along with other activists around the country - to mark five years of offshore processing of refugees and asylum seekers. Sophie Moeller

Refugee activists join forces

LAST week Lismore's Amnesty Action Group stood for a minute's silence with hands raised and wrists crossed in the same way the refugees on Manus Island stand to register their passive resistance.

The group was one of many activist organisations across the country who came together to mark five years since the introduction of the government's offshore processing policy.

The local Amnesty group have been holding vigils outside Kevin Hogan's office for two and a half years, calling on the Federal Government to resettle more than 1600 refugees who remain on Manus Island and Nauru.

As part of the "Let Them Stay” vigil, a dozen empty chairs were placed on the curb displaying cardboard tombstones of the 12 who have lost their lives in offshore detention.

Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith was one of the 54 in attendance as the names of the dead were read out by Centre Church pastor Ian Phillips.

Anne Tuart established Lismore's Amnesty International Lismore Group in 2015 and said it was "a moving experience”.

"This ridiculous inhumane treatment of children, women and men, who have broken no law, must stop,” she said.

"If the protection of our borders requires the incarceration of babies, the sexual abuse of children, the rape of women and the murder of men, then we are of all nations the most depraved.

"The government cannot claim to have saved people from drowning when the ones that didn't drown have been detained for five years and 12 have died.”

On July 19, 2013, Prime Minster Kevin Rudd announced all boat-borne asylum seekers would be subject to indefinite detention offshore and would never be eligible to settle in Australia. The cost to taxpayers to date is said to be at $5billion.

Anne Tuart founder of The Lismore Amnesty Action Group.
Anne Tuart founder of The Lismore Amnesty Action Group. Sophie Moeller

Ms Tuart said the core group, who meet each week outside Mr Hogan's office have developed a strong bond over past few years. Some among the group are in personal contact with the detainees and one is with Doctors for Refugees. These people keep us up to date with the true situation on Manus and Nauru.

"We, from time to time, count the positive reaction from passing motorists. We get waves and toots and a thumbs up.”

The positive responses began at 22 per cent but have slowly risen to around 50 per cent, Ms Tuart said.

"Reaction is strongly influenced by what is happening in the news. We can tell by the weekly changes in responses. The media is very powerful.”

In response to this week's vigil, Kevin Hogan said: "Over 1200 children, women and men drowned at sea from 2007 to 2013. We have not had a successful people smuggling venture in more than 1400 days, and the deaths at sea have stopped”.

"We promised to secure our borders, stop drownings at sea and to keep Australians safe. We have delivered on this. Since coming to government over 8000 people, including 2000 children are no longer in detention.

"We have closed 17 detention centres in that time.”

Lismore Amnesty Action Group take part in vigil to mark 5 years since beginning of the government's asylum seeker offshore detention policy.
EVER VIGILANT: Lismore Amnesty Action Group take part in vigil to mark five years since beginning of the government's asylum seeker offshore detention policy. Tony Batchelor

"Kevin listens but gives the general impression he is unable to have any influence,” Ms Tuart said.

There have been consistent revelations of physical violence - including murder - sexual abuse of women and children, allegations of torture by guards, medical neglect leading to death and catastrophic rates of mental health damage, self-harm and suicide attempts, she said.

"But the government is in too deep to change it direction. They want to save face. They think there are votes in not being soft on border security.

"Kevin will only toe the party line. He is, after all, the party whip now. I don't know where his real sympathies lie.

"I trust he is a compassionate, loving parent and human being.”

Ms Tuart doubts a deal between America and Australia to resettle the refugees will come to fruition due to the recent legal ruling excluding citizens from certain countries from gaining entry to the US.

She said "much of the cost of the offshore processing has gone to corrupt governments. Think of the $55m to Cambodia, which took three refugees”.

Lismore Amnesty Action Group - Timeline

17/2/2014 - Riza Barati, 24, killed by his guards inside the detention facility on Manus Island. Two Australian security guards repatriated to Australia. PNG national sentenced but escaped without apprehension.

22/6/14 - Sayed Ibraham Ali Shah, 23, drowned Nauru.

5/9/2014 - Hamid Khezaei, 24, died in Brisbane after delayed treatment for sepsis from Manus.

October 2015 - Amnesty International Lismore Action group began.

February 2016 - 62 people attend "Let Them Stay” rally in front of the federal members office. Rallies through out Australia prevented children from being deported back to Nauru.

29/4/2016 - Omid Masoumali, 23, died in Nauru hospital after self-immolation.

11/5/2016 - Rahab Khan, 26, died from a suspected suicide on Nauru.

June 2016 - Screening of Chasing Asylum.

June 2016 - Walked in the Lantern Parade and made our own lanterns.

2/8/2016 - Kami Hussain, 34, drowned on Manus.

September 2018 - Profit sharing event with the Red Dove cafe.

October 2016 - Walk around CBD 250 people attend. Supported by the mayor and prominent members of the public spoke. The Winsome Choir performed.

December 2016 - Street theatre - residents, and some councillors, protect asylum boat with Lismore hearts.

24/12/2016 - Faysal Ishak Ahmad, 27, died as a result of a fall caused by a seizure and failure to treat.

February 2017 - Walk to mark the 50th vigil. Six deaths at this time.

March 2017 - Sponsor Young Songwriters Competition.

June 2016 - Letters from detainees were read at candlelight vigil for refugees held in the grounds of the Uniting Church.

7/8/2017 - Hamed Samshiripour, 31, suspected suicide on Manus.

June 2017 - Lantern parade

2/10/2017 - Rajeev Rajendran, 32, suspected suicide, Manus.

2/11/2017 - Jahingir, 29, died in hospital after a car driven by Nauruans hit his motorbike. No charges have been laid.

November 2017 - 200 attend SOS Manus rally when refugees were forcibly moved to accommodation outside the detention centre. The authorities broke or stole their possessions and killed their dog.

April 2018 - Stall at Mardigrass parade.

May 2018 - Human Flow, produced by world famous artist Ai Weiwei addresses situation.

22/5/2018 - Salim Kyawning, 52, from Myanmar. Wife and children in Australia. Jumped from a moving bus.

15/6/2018 - Fariborz karami, 26, suspected suicide. Recently married dental student in Iran. Body yet to be buried.

June 2018 - Made a new lantern for the parade.

19/7/18 - Marked five years of indefinite detention. Now 12 deaths. 54 people attend vigil including mayor.