Australia

Thousands march across Australia to protest refugee detention

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Protesters across Australia have demanded that refugees still languishing on Nauru and Manus Island be brought to Australia immediately.

Thousands of people have marched across major Australian cities calling for an end to Canberra's offshore detention of asylum-seekers.

The government sends anyone who tries to enter the country by sea to camps on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island or on Nauru in the Pacific for processing.

Protesters took to the streets on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of the policy's reintroduction, when in 2013 Canberra significantly toughened its stance, signing deals with the Pacific nations and declaring anyone arriving by boat had "no chance" of being settled in Australia.

"The policy that was introduced in 2013, to expel people - the 'Fortress Australia' policy that they (the government) put in place - that has to go," rally organiser Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition told Sydney protesters.

"So we fight to close the detention centres on Manus and Nauru, but we fight in that process to bring them here."

Hundreds marched through Sydney shouting, "Free, free the refugees", with banners stating, "Five years too long, evacuate Manus and Nauru". Joint rallies were held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.

Protesters are seen in Melbourne.
Thousands of people rallied in Melbourne demanding refugees be brought to Australia immediately.
AAP

At one rally, a statement was read out from Kurdish refugee Behrouz Boochani who's been on Manus for five years.

"Many innocent people on Manus and Nauru are still suffering," he said.

"Too many Australians are still indifferent to this or too unsure of what to do. But you make us stronger. We watch you raise your voices in the Australian streets and feel your presence here with us."

Mr Boochani called on people to remember the 12 asylum seekers who have died on Manus Island and Nauru since 2013.

"Those young men were just seeking freedom and instead found the cruelty and violence of the Australian state," he said.

Rally-goers protest during the Evacuate Manus and Nauru Protest - 'Five Years Too Long, 12 Deaths Too Many' Protest at Town Hall in Sydney.
Rally-goers protest during the Evacuate Manus and Nauru Protest - 'Five Years Too Long, 12 Deaths Too Many' Protest at Town Hall in Sydney.
AAP

Canberra says its policy deters people from embarking on treacherous sea journeys, but rights groups and the United Nations have slammed the wealthy nation for turning its back on vulnerable people, as reports of abuse, suicide and despondency filter out of the camps.

"Any country that openly rejects compassion and instead tortures people who we know are innocent, in order to make them a deterrent... has somehow lost its soul," said Father Dave Smith, who recently returned from a visit to the Manus camp.

An Iranian man died in an apparent suicide on Nauru in June, with his body arriving in Australia last week after what Rintoul said took much lobbying of a reluctant Australian government, which initially said the man would be buried in Nauru or repatriated to Iran.

Demonstrators march during a protest to demand humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in Sydney.
Demonstrators march during a protest to demand humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in Sydney.
AFP

The deceased man's mother, who requested his body be buried in a place the family could one day visit, remains on Nauru with her younger son but has been refused entry to Australia for the burial, Rintoul added.

This was the fifth death on Nauru since Australia's offshore detention ramped up in July 2013, rights groups say, while seven have died on Manus during the same period.

Canberra has tried to resettle those recognised as refugees to third countries such as the US, and more than a hundred have been moved there, according to the Refugee Action Coalition.

But they say some 1,600 people remain on Nauru and Manus.

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