Refugee women desperate for visas are walking 650km from the office of Immigration Minister Andrew Giles in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra.
The group of mainly Iranian and Tamil refugees are demanding permanent protection for all refugees without visas, work and study rights for all refugees, permanent settlement in Australia for refugees brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, and the abolition of the misnamed Fast Track System and the Immigration Assessment Authority.
Refugees who arrived in Australia more than a decade ago have not, under the Fast Track system, been provided with a timeframe or process to achieve permanent residency. Some have waited almost seven years for a federal court date—the only way to appeal a rejection from the IAA.
As they began their walk, they received communication from a refugee group mediating for Andrew Giles’ office, with an offer from the minister to meet individually with the women and find a solution, under the condition they did not go ahead with their protest walk. In a brave display of solidarity with the thousands of other refugees affected, the offer was refused.
“They were not prepared to do that”, Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council told Red Flag. “They said it’s not good enough and that people are relying on their walk; until they get a promise regarding the situation of everyone, they will continue walking.
“They want more than words. They’re used to empty words from Labor politicians, so they were quite determined to keep going, build momentum, and see if they can challenge the policies that the Labor Party continue to maintain.”
One woman has been hospitalised less than a week into the walk, and despite advice that she return to Melbourne and recover, she has insisted on staying in accommodation nearby until she can re-join.
Their determination is clear.
Geetha Ramachandran, co-founder of Refugee Women Action for Visa Equality, which organised the walk, epitomised this determination in a speech at a rally at Andrew Giles’ office in Thomastown before the walk commenced: “I am marching to bring the suffering to an end. Not just for me and my family, but for all left behind. We all have the same goal: we need permanent protection!”
The walkers plan to reach Canberra on 18 October and are asking that people join them on their walk to Parliament House.
Stay up to date about their progress at facebook.com/RefugeeWAVE.