The Lismore Amnesty Group will mark their 3rd year anniversary next week, on 18 February, of holding vigils outside of their local MP’s office.
On February 18 in 2016 the first vigil was held in Lismore to protest against the returning of baby Asha to Nauru after being treated at Lady Cilento Hospital for burns suffered while being held in offshore detention.
Anne Tuart, the Lismore Group Convenor turned up to this first vigil and has been going every since. As the vigil was wrapping up Anne told the organisers that she would join them the next month for the next vigil. They told her in no uncertain terms that these vigils are being held weekly. Anne has been going weekly ever since!
Vigils also supported the No Business in Abuse, a local campaign which called on the Southern Cross University to drop Broadspectrum and its security subcontractor, Wilson Security, service providers for Manus Island and Nauru detention centres. Their local campaign was successful, Wilson Security no longer have any work with the Southern Cross University.
Anne is very clear that while the Amnesty group ensures that the vigils continue, they are community based and collaborative. Participants are members of a variety of local/regional groups, organisations and residents. The vigil goers include the Lismore Amnesty group, Remembering and Healing Inc, Federal loves refugees, Sanctuary Northern Rivers, Labor Northern Rivers, NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, local Uniting Church, Kyogle action group, No Business in Abuse, Ballina Region for Refugees, Lismore Quakers Group, Northern River Greens, Presentation Society Lismore, , Lennox Head Women’s Group, Knitting Nannas, the Page GetUp! group and residents of surrounding towns of Kyogle, Ballino, Casino and Lismore.
The vigils are calling for the closure of detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru and for the asylum seekers to be brought here. They also mark important dates. For example last year in July the community held a silent vigil to mark the 5 years since the government’s offshore processing policy. This vigil included 12 empty seats with cardboard tombstones of the 12 people who have sadly lost their lives in offshore detention centres.
Interestingly more people attend vigils on the weeks when there is more media coverage of refugee and asylum seeker issues. For their first vigil of the 2019 about 20 people turned up. One of the locals who joined in for the first time said she had been driving past the vigil every week, but she couldn’t drive past anymore!
Alongside the weekly vigils Anne writes and delivers a weekly letter to MP Kevin Hogan on behalf of the community.
You can check out the letters and find more out about the weekly vigils from the community facebook page.
The group have been hugely successful in gaining media coverage. For example the Lismore Echo covered the silent vigil in July 2018 on the front page, on page 3, 19 and 40!
Last year I travelled to Lismore to join in one of the vigils. Senator Richard di Natale dropped by to say hi to the community members and to thank them for the persistence and compassion.
The Lismore Amnesty Group and their cohorts, and our action groups Australia wide are the reason the Amnesty candle continues burn. Thanks to all of you amazing people for ensuring that we continue to light up the darkness.