[Diocese of Melbourne] An estimated 15,000 people took part in candlelight vigils around Australia on Feb. 24 for Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati, who died as a result of violence at the Manus Island detention center on Feb. 17.
Melbourne Anglican priest the Rev. Jasmine Dow was among the 5,000 people gathered in Melbourne’s Federation Square.
She said, “The “Light the Dark” vigils were advertized only 32 hours before thousands of people gathered around Australia to mourn the death of Reza Berati on Manus Island under Australia’s watch. Not only did we mourn Reza’s death, but also Australia’s unethical and inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
“At the Federation Square vigil the mood was sombre. The presenters spoke with a clear and unified message. We stood listening, with our candles lighting the darkness, in the hope that our corporate voice would be heard; a voice that says that the actions of our government are done not in our name, a voice that says the current solution is ‘wrong’, a voice that calls for another way, a way of compassion.
“When I reflect on the vigil, I can’t help but reflect on our own faith confession: Jesus, light of the world. This ‘light of the world’ was himself a refugee. I am challenged by the vigil and by our faith confession on what the church will do, or is doing, as the Body of Christ, to light the darkness of Australia’s refugee policy. How we will hold the leaders of our nation accountable?”
In commenting on Reza Berati’s death in a media statement on Feb. 20, Bishop Philip Huggins, chair of the Anglican Church’s Migrant and Refugee Working Group, said that the federal government’s policies on asylum seekers must be reviewed.
“A civilized government must be able to control its refugee intake without resort to measures of intentional cruelty,” he said.
“We have previously been a generous nation towards refugees. Refugees’ contributions have, thereafter, enriched our common wealth. Our own history tells us what blessings follow when the spirit and detail of the Refugee Convention is honored. Conscience cries out for a review of current implementation measures.”