Refugee Action Committee
This list captures the major events. There have also been a number of smaller events that are not listed including the various activities that are undertaken to build for major events.
For example, in the lead up to a number of events, we have distributed leaflets over the 2-3 preceding weekends at the two Farmers’ Markets, displayed posters at suburban shopping centres across the city, and held up prominent signs at busy traffic intersections each morning in the week before the Palm Sunday rally.
This list does not include the activities of the various RAC Working Groups, these are listed in the Group reports below.
Rallies & snap vigils and protests
Palm Sunday rally, Gareman Place, 25 March
Five Years Too Long rally, Commonwealth Bridge, 21 July
Kids Off Nauru rally, in conjunction with RAR, Parliament House, 16 Oct
Kids Off; Everyone Off rally, Northbourne Ave & London Circuit, 17 Nov
Kids Off Nauru rally, in conjunction with RCoA, Parliament House, 27 Nov
Vigil for Salim Kyawning, Garema Place, 24 May
Vigil for Fariborz K, Garema Place, 19 June
Public meetings & forums
Refugees Make Australia Better, Speaker – Dr Munjed Al Muderis, 1 March
Australia’s Refugee Policy – Leading the World Backwards, Speaker – Dr John Minns, 12 April
Refugees: Alternatives to Cruelty, Speakers – Dr Claire Higgins & Dr John Minns; Chair – Dr Matthew Zagor, 4 September
Book launch – No Friends But The Mountains, Speakers – Behrouz Boochani, Paul Bongiorno, Moones Mansoubi, 27 September
- 30 Jan
- 26 April
- 6 June
- 8 August
- 24 October
RAC Canberra-wide organisational events
Jam For Refugees – in conjunction with All Saints Anglican Church, 1 June
Refugee Week – Super RAC Stalls Saturday, 23 June
Activities by month
Refugee Action Committee
Faith-Based Working Group
Over 200 people have expressed interest in the Faith-Based Working Group (FBWG) by ticking the relevant box on the RAC sign-up sheet. However, only about 20 are actively involved. We send out occasional emails to the 200-plus list regarding events which are specifically faith-related, and have a FBWG Facebook page.
During 2018 the FBWG met monthly at the Friends’ Meeting House in Turner, kindly provided free by the Quakers. During the year, in addition to assisting at RAC events, the FBWG undertook the following activities.
- In March 29 banners were delivered to churches, schools and other religious institutions advertising the Palm Sunday rally on 25 March.
- Several members of the FBWG wore sackcloth (an ancient sign of repentance) at the Palm Sunday rally prompting questions from others and providing an opportunity for discussion.
- In May, the FBWG wrote to the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, on the NZ government’s offer to resettle 150 refugees per year, urging her to continue pushing the Australian government to accept the offer. In June we met Andrew White, First Secretary at the New Zealand High Commission, who was happy to continue promoting NZ’s offer.
- In association with the Canberra Taizé Community, a reflective Taizé service was held on 10 June at Weston Creek Uniting Church. About 30 people attended. The FBWG will maintain contact with the Taizé community with a view to holding further such services.
- Our Muslim members on the FBWG were not able to attend many activities in 2018 and we continue to seek more involvement by Muslim, Jewish and other faith communities.
- Members of the FBWG have taken a leading role in maintenance of the SIEV X memorial in Weston Park.
- Two FBWG members visited Manus Island during the year and other members maintained regular contact with the detainees.
- Following reports of loneliness amongst some of the refugees resettled in the United States, FBWG members contacted US churches to ask them to assist the new residents.
- Five members of the group attended a “#RightTrack conversations” session on facilitating these groups in the community.
- The FBWG is keen to promote a stronger sense of community amongst members and has organised several social activities during the year.
Rainbow Refugee Action
Rainbow Refugee Action held meetings almost every month throughout the year with around 15 people in our core group.
Our major campaign actions were:
- Holding a successful discussion panel at Muse during SpringOut “A Discussion about LGBTIQ Asylum Seekers, including their lives in Canberra” Around 25 people attended [4 new sign ups] and heard four great speakers – Tina Dixson, a Queer woman refugee activist, Liz Huang Hughes, a lawyer for some Commonwealth Games asylum seekers and our own Meg Clark and Dave Worner.
- SpringOut Fairday Stall– where over 150 postcards were signed to politicians on LGBT asylum seekers
- Met with Minister Steele, as part of a delegation supporting the Commonwealth Games asylum seekers in Canberra
- Supported a protest action outside Braddon Immigration Office in support of Commonwealth Games asylum seekers.
We have also increasing provided personal support to asylum seekers and refugees on Manus, Nauru and here in Canberra. Our work in this area includes:
- Making direct representation to three different Rainbow refugee community sponsorship programs in Canada on behalf of one man in Manus and two men on Nauru.
- Providing ongoing personal support to two gay men on Manus and a gay couple on Nauru – all refugees.
- Making contact with, and offering support to, Companion House that has initiated an LGBT support group for asylum seekers and refugees. Qwire provided two free tickets to their last concert for group members.
- Meeting with the Cameroonian asylum seekers – gay, lesbian and allies to offer support and community.
- Briefing an ALP community sponsorship working group about the importance of explicitly including LGBT refugees.
- Holding a BBQ in late January, to which we will be inviting local LGBT asylum seekers.
- Briefing Equality Australia, a new national LGBTIQ human rights group, on why LGBT community sponsorship is an important initiative for Australia.
- Briefing CM Barr on the increasing discrimination against LGBT asylum seekers worldwide and the decreasing number of nations that accept LGBT refugees.
Meg and AMD for Rainbow Refugee Action.
Unionists for Refugees
Throughout 2018 we’ve continued to build Unionists for Refugees with both successes and some challenges while also building links with similar groups such as Union Aid Abroad APHEDA to attempt to capitalise on shared values.
- Our biggest success was the large union turnout at the Palm Sunday rally with Unionists for Refugees visibly represented by contingents from the AEU, CFMEU, CPSU, NTEU, UnionsACT, United Voice, and Vintage Reds.
- We had a social media campaign during Refugee Week, featuring statements by union leaders from the AEU (Glenn Fowler), NTEU (Rachael Bahl), UnionsACT (Alex White) and United Voice (Lyndal Ryan).
- We maintained a Twitter account, Facebook account, website and email address.
Our messaging continues to be distinct from other RAC messaging as the continued development of a distinct identity as a union-based group is important. For union members, this issue is best framed as protecting rights where an attack on one person’s rights is an attack on all.
There has been a noticeable shift in support for refugees and asylum seekers from the Federal ALP. While the ALP’s policy is still far from ideal, it is moving in the right direction. The ACTU strongly supports the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, and Ged Kearney’s election means that advocacy within the ALP will continue to be stronger than previously. This may allow ALP-affiliated unions to be more outspoken.
Some members of our group went to the ARAN conference, however the union part of the conference wasn’t particularly productive. This means that we’re still yet to meaningfully connect with union groups campaigning on this issue in other states or territories.
Our biggest barrier is time. While we met regularly throughout the first half of 2018, other commitments have impacted on our capacity to organise. Our social media campaign in late in 2017 focused on eliciting solidarity workplace photos and was a good way to engage people in their work environment. While we’ve been good at engaging union officers and staff we need to consider how to better reach (and involve) grassroots union members and incorporate activism into their working lives. Weekday events are difficult for members to attend, and many have family and caring responsibilities at other times.
Our priorities to consider over 2019 include establishing regular communication with members, consolidating a distinct and recognisable identity, and reaching grassroots union members. We also need to continue to build our presence at high profile events such as Palm Sunday and bring new activists into the organising side of the group so that we’re less reliant on a few key people.
UC Refugee Action Club
Throughout 2018, UC RAC have had many significant successes in awareness raising, club development, events and merchandising, but we have also had significant logistical challenges in terms of event planning and organisation, particularly regarding the art exhibition, originally scheduled for the end of October, and now postponed to February 2019.
We started off the year with a raffle for tickets to Ai Weiwei’s “Human Flow” to engage our new members, and have maintained regular weekly social meetings. These extended throughout the mid-year break into Semester Two, ending mid-November. We have also held a variety of screenings of refugee documentaries, conducted a successful trivia night, and subsidised attendance to external refugee-related events, such as the UNHCR Canberra Representative’s talk at the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Except for assessment periods, these were consistently well attended, and a stronger social aspect to the club helped with attendance at the larger Canberra RAC demonstrations. However, our contingents at Canberra RAC rallies may never represent the entirety of UC’s pro-refugee students and staff, as many of the people who would otherwise march with us are associated with other contingents, such as Amnesty International, Unionists for Refugees, Academics for Refugees, church groups and others.
Our logo and branding has been redesigned (pictured above), and the new design has been printed on phone card holders, a practical and popular item among university students. The card holders are given free to members, and they have helped to raise the club’s profile, as they won Best Physical Product at UC Life’s 2018 Campus Life Awards. This has increased the effectiveness of our Market Day stalls, enabling more in-depth conversations about current refugee policy with UC RAC’s target markets- persuadable or pro-refugee students and staff, and current refugee students.
UC’s environment represents a unique challenge, with the bureaucracy of UC Union and the absence of a strong club culture on campus as significant obstacles. UC RAC have sought to strengthen our campus connections through joint meetings with other clubs, such as the Politics, International Relations and National Security society (PIRaNaS), Isaacs Law Society, UC United Nations Society, UC Flux, UC Toastmasters and UC Indonesian Society. However, as we still only have a small core of people who are regularly available to help run events such as market days, this remains our main challenge.
Our focus for the new year will initially be finalising plans for the aforementioned art exhibition, including a limited amount of art prints, a slideshow, guest speaker, decorations, programs and personnel. Throughout Semester 1 2019, we will also be fundraising and working further on succession planning and officer training to ensure the longevity of the club.
ANU RAC began the year with a successful O-Week stall. Many new and older students signed up to get involved. Our first few activities focused on welcoming new faces and putting together a large ANU contingent for Palm Sunday — mainly involving semi-regular organising meetings and stalls. A photo-campaign to build for this event was well received on Facebook. The ANU cingent at the rally was quite good and we had, for the first time, ANU Medical Students for Refugees marching for the first time. Following the Palm Sunday rally, momentum declined slightly. We held two social events that had a low attendance. Our semester two O-Week stall was less successful than the first, due to a lack of organisation. Despite this, new people came to our organising meetings in the following weeks and were keen to get involved. Our main event this semester, ‘A Story Of Asylum’ (a public meeting with Zaki Haidari) was well attended and drew in some new faces.
Our strengths related to our positive reputation and wide reach on campus. We began the year with a strong presence at O-Week. Many students had already heard of us and were ready to get active. We also began to build relationships with other groups on campus, such as the ANU Law Students for Refugees, which formed this year. Our Facebook page continued to have a significant reach and positive reception. This page is a central factor behind our high-profile name and reputation on campus.
Our weaknesses are also clear. We struggled to get new activists involved beyond a casual level and integrate them into the organisation. Even those who threw themselves into activity gradually withdrew as the year went on. While one of our goals was to maintain personal engagement with new activists throughout the year, we were not able to achieve this, which likely contributed to the ‘dropping out’ rate. This relates to a second problem. Our core group of activists is declining and they are not being replaced by new people, which leaves too much work to those still involved. Consequently, we lost track of central tasks like following up on sign-ups, organising meetings and booking rooms. Without replacements in this core group, our capacity will be severely diminished next year.
Considering these strengths and weaknesses, it appears ANU RAC will need to focus on rebuilding and integrating new people into the organisation by following up personally with new students and building strong connections between members. We will also need a committed group of students who are able to keep track of the organisation and maintain responsibility for weekly meetings, event planning and following up with new students. This could take the form of a small steering committee involving both new and old members.