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UMSU welcomes you along to this year’s ‘Palm Sunday: Justice for Refugees Rally’. Annually, on Palm Sunday, people from a range of different groups throughout society gather together and participate in the Walk for Justice for Refugees to show support and solidarity to those who have been mistreated by our government, and demand change in our asylum seeker policy.

We’ll be joining these groups on the day, hosting the official student contingent from the University of Melbourne.

What’s happening?

Thousands of refugees and people seeking asylum have been, and continue to be held in cruel offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island. They continue to be subjected to inhumane conditions, inadequate medical care, physical and sexual abuse, as well as the psychological trauma resulting from their indefinite detainment.

These conditions have resulted in nine deaths in the last four years. Right now, 160 children are still held in Nauru and many families continue to be separated because of Australia’s asylum seeker policy. Last year, the Australian Government, in a shameful move, also rejected New Zealand’s offer to resettle and offer protection to 150 asylum seekers and only 242 people have been offered protection by America, as 1700 people remain in detention.

What can we do to help?

Join UMSU and your fellow students in demanding ‘Close the Camps, Bring them Here!’, ‘Education not Detention!’. We call on political leaders, both within the government, and in the Labor opposition, to abandon Australia’s current asylum seeker policy. We call on the government to undertake an approach that is humane and holds respect for the basic human dignity of people seeking asylum. Rather than spending millions on keeping asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island and Nauru, we urge the government to bring them here and let them stay.

The money spent on maintaining the cruelty of offshore detention could go towards funding our universities, currently under attack by the very-same Liberal party in government.

When we stand together and collectively call for change, we can push for action and improvements to the lives of refugees. If you want to be a part of this movement, join our student contingent to the Walk for Justice for Refugees. We’ll be meeting out the side of the State Library at the front of Mr Tulk’s Café at 1pm, before the protest at the front of State Library at 2pm.

Join the UMSU contingent on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/348269579012939/

Palm Sunday Protest event: https://www.facebook.com/events/142529579757550/

 

Desiree Cai
UMSU President

Words by Martin Ditmann

The Australian Medical Students’ Association has launched a new campaign about asylum seeker policy, based on health concerns.

The campaign urges the Australian government to change its policies on asylum seekers. AMSA says the current system of prolonged detention is harmful to asylum seekers’ health—particularly in terms of mental health. It seeks to end any policy that deters asylum seekers from coming to Australia.

Campaign Logistics Officer Kasun Wickramarachchi said AMSA recommends “specific band-aid solutions” to minimise health impacts. These include an independent national health body and support for state governments to improve accessibility of mental health services.

AMSA Global Health Officer Timothy Martin said many asylum seekers grapple with mental health issues. “There are a range of mental health conditions which our policies are causing – depression, anxiety, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

Mr Wickramarachchi said he believes everyone should have an equal right to health and mental health is a particular focus with regard to asylum seekers. “It is the perfect example of the detrimental effects that current policy has on the health and wellbeing of those in detention and processing facilities,” he said.

AMSA members say the program has spurred them into action. Mr Martin said he’s been particularly moved by the experiences of his friend, who is currently in detention.

“He has tried to take his life on several occasions and ended up in psychiatric care more times than I can count,” he said.

AMSA claims it has 300 members signed up to be involved in the campaign. Their roles will involve petitioning and educating, as well as meeting with politicians to discuss AMSA’s concerns.

Mr Martin also says AMSA is open to working with other student groups.

This is not the first time AMSA has run a campaign on national issues or done work around asylum seeker issues.

This campaign follows AMSA’s “Crossing Borders for Health” program, in which medical students across the country visit detention centres and provide services.

Words by Nathan Fioritti

1,200 Australian academics have signed an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, calling for the closure of offshore detention centres. The letter claims that the offshore processing on both Manus Island and Nauru is “seriously flawed and unsustainable”.

Professor Philomena Murray, of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, coordinated the letter. According to Professor Murray, the letter itself is a symbol of deep unease by academic staff across the country.

“Basically what you see is 1,200 academics who are so passionate and so concerned—really concerned, I think that’s the most important word to use—that they have written to me and to other people to talk about this concern.”

“When the letter got to 500 signatures in about three days, I sent it to the Prime Minister.”

After posting the letter online, there was an overwhelming reaction, leading to a national response, according to Professor Murray. It gained signatures and support from academics from every university in the country.

The idea for the letter came following a discussion with members of the group Academics for Refugees. The collaborative effort began after attending a vigil at Federation Square, following the death of 23-year-old asylum seeker Reza Berati on 17 February.

The Prime Minister has not responded to the open letter.

Words by Adeshola Ore

The University of Melbourne is launching a new program focusing on asylum seekers. The Melbourne Refugee Studies Program will include education programs and evidence-based discussions. The multidisciplinary initiative will also create an Australia refugee studies collection, including fact sheets, policy briefs, study guides and records of refugee policies. It will aim to engage the university community and wider public in discussions about  asylum seeker issues.

Associate Professor Harry Minas is involved with designing the program. He said the initiative would generate discussions about Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

Professor Minas, who works at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Heath, described the program as having an “initial very clear focus” on asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

He said the research program aims to move beyond the bickering of the differing opinions on asylum seekers and instead form a discussion based on evidence.

The idea for a refugee program was introduced after a roundtable discussion on the issues was held at the Parkville campus last year in October. Student interest in refugee issues also prompted discussion.

Enrolments in refugee-related subjects at the university experience high student numbers. The multidisciplinary breadth subject Human Rights and Global Justice, which examines refugee issues, regularly records hundreds of undergraduate enrolments. The Melbourne Law School also has high enrolment numbers in subjects about refugee law.

“There are a whole lot of initiatives that students are taking—there are various groupings that have formed around the issue of asylum seekers,” Professor Minas said.

Professor Minas said the research information can contribute to research interests for Masters and PhD students. For undergraduate students, a breadth subject will be developed to allow students to gain an awareness of refugee issues. Students will also have a chance to be a part of the program through involvement in policy direction and program events.

The Refugee Studies Program is still in the process of being developed.