Australia: Christian activists to march to celebrate refugees

Around a thousand protesters attended a 'Stand up for Refugees' rally earlier this month, demanding changes to the Australian government's current policies.REUTERS/David Gray

Thousands of Australians will take to the streets tomorrow in marches aimed at celebrating refugees and asylum seekers.

"Walk Together", which takes place in towns and cities across the continent, will feature non-violent Christian activists such as Jarrod McKenna promoting the concept of "common people with common dreams".

It is a intended to be a celebration of diversity that will promote all people as "equally deserving of freedom, fairness, opportunity to contribute, welcome and belonging."

It comes as Australia is immersed in a contentious debate over the large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers seeking to make a permanent home there, many having fled persecution and torture across the world.

Earlier this week, the immigration minister stripped at least one refugee of their right to appeal as part of an attempt to block any attempt to settle permanently.

In September, the high court disallowed the government's attempt to force all asylum seekers on to temporary protection.

The Guardian in Australia reported this week that the independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie has written to the international criminal court asking it to investigate prime minister Tony Abbott's government for crimes against asylum seekers. Wilkie told the newspaper: "In my application I have particularly named crimes against humanity, such as the forced relocation of people, obviously to the Republic of Nauru or Papua New Guinea."

He is claiming that immigration policies in Australia contravene the Refugee Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Tomorrow's Walk Together, organised by Welcome to Australia, an organisation set up by Adelaide pastor Brad Chilcott in 2011, is intended to counter some of the "negative feeling" in Australia about asylum, refugees, and multiculturalism as a whole.

Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra are among more than 20 cities involved.

"The Australia we love is known for its diversity, compassion, generosity and commitment to giving all people a fair go," the website says. "We'd like to find many different ways that individuals, families, businesses and other organisations can work together to continue to develop these values in our communities, work places, schools and institutions.

"We also believe that there are thousands of Australians who don't care too much for politics and don't know a great deal about immigration policy - but who do know they care about people. We believe that cultural diversity should be celebrated for the beauty and depth it adds to our society and that no matter who you are, where you're from or how you arrived - you're a person who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We hope to coordinate a range of ways in which people can express these concepts in practical, meaningful and positive ways.

"While some of us have strong opinions about policies to do with asylum seeking, refugees and migration, we believe that the most effective way of creating social and policy change in this area is to facilitate opportunities for authentic relationships to be built in which people of differing backgrounds share their stories. In other words - we believe that knowing someone personally and hearing their story, hopes and dreams will have more impact on a person's views on these contentious issues than any policy, economic or political debate. We'd like to create a loud, public voice of positivity which changes the public conversation by virtue of its volume and values."