It was cold and miserable on Vincent St last Friday. But every Friday, rain or shine, there is a weekly Toot for Refugees in Daylesford – an ‘indefinite protest against indefinite detention’. The protest has been ongoing since November 2018, only pausing for the COVID-19 lockdown.

As Janet Gaden, one of the organisers for Rural Australians for Refugees Daylesford, says, ”Yes we’re sick of it but they’re sicker, and no Medevac”.  The count is usually about 100 toots in the half hour, which shows strong public support.

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, there are about 430 people still in indefinite detention on Nauru and Manus islands. Many have been there for more than five years. The Australian Government has refused help from New Zealand to resettle refugees.

Rural Australians for Refugees Daylesford (RARD) is part of the nation-wide movement, Rural Australians for Refugees, which is made up of local groups like the Daylesford group all across the country.

RARD is also a member of the Central Victorian Refugee Support Network. This is a co-operation between groups of Rural Australians for Refugees in Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Daylesford and District, Woodend-Macedon and Maryborough.  RARD is also in contact with other groups such as the Grandmothers in Ballarat.

Most of the Shires in Central Victoria are Refugee Welcome Zones. The local group is proud that Hepburn Shire became one of the first of these in 2004.  The Council planted  a tree in the Lost Children’s Park with a plaque commemorating this commitment to the welfare of refugees. RARD is grateful to the Council for its support in many ways.

RARD has a long association with the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Centre (ASRC) in Footscray and Dandenong. The ASRC provides material, legal, educational and social services to thousands of asylum seekers living in the community in very restricted and difficult conditions, without the right to work. RARD raises money for ASRC at street stalls and collects food and household requirements.

Rural Australians for Refugees is also active at the political level. They have called on the  Federal Government to welcome people seeking asylum, to assess their claims with justice, to end mandatory indefinite detention, to close offshore detention centres, to cease detaining children, and to give people accepted as refugees a secure place in Australian society with access to the right to work,  social benefits and the protection of Australian law.  Members respond to issues as they occur through petitions, letters, telephone calls and emails.

Currently RARD is very concerned for the men detained in the Mantra Hotel in Preston. They were brought here for medical treatment under Medevac, though many of them are yet to see a doctor. So they are all in poor health and they are being held with no way to isolate in these COVID times.

The Facebook page for Contacts for Rural Australians for Refugees Daylesford is here:  Contact Michelle Clifford, Gypsys_Den@msn.com  or for RARD, Janet Gaden, gadenjanet@gmail.com