Just as many communities gathered in their local parishes to mark Palm (Passion) Sunday, so too did Australians across the country gather for the annual Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees.

Described as a movement of the heart, the walk was an opportunity to raise awareness of the continuing injustice and cruelty experienced by refugees and people seeking asylum. Events were held in most capital cities around the country, with locals in Melbourne gathering at the State Library of Victoria before walking through the city towards Lincoln Square in Carlton.

The gathering focused on the call to provide permanent visas for refugees, basic income support to all those waiting for their refugee status to be assessed, and the release of all refugees from detention and an end to offshore processing.

Sr Brigid Arthur CSB, co-founder of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project and one of the guest speakers at the Melbourne event, said it was time to change the system.

‘It is outrageous that we punish people who came to us in trust ... They believe we are a decent nation and we would like to be that nation.

‘We feel a weight of sadness for those caught in the system because thousands of people suffer for no good reason at all.’

She lamented that it is always the most vulnerable who suffer due to poor policies and systemic failures. ‘Women and children amongst the asylum seeker population are becoming somewhat invisible and vulnerable,’ Sr Brigid said. ‘Children have to act as interpreters for parents and they are often put in situations that no young people or children should be. Mothers have to do all sorts of things to get enough money and put food on the table, with very little extended family support.’

‘There’s still hope. Hope that if we keep going something will change ... we can’t just wring our hands in despair.’

Sr Brigid called on community and government leaders to provide income support for those seeking refuge; to stop the separation of families and ‘do what we can’ in order to reunite families. She also called for the fair processing of applications and that mandatory detention be stopped.

‘We need to feel outrage. It galvansies us into actoin that demands change. And to collectively give voice to that outrage ... We hope that by next Palm Sunday we’re celebrating that things have changed for the better.

‘Until we do that, we place in jeopardy the kind of society we claim to be.’

Organised by the Australian Refugee Advocacy Network, the ecumenical event drew in a number of local organisations including members of Catholic Social Services Victoria, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the Ballarat Catholic Social Justice Commission, the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, Doctors for Refugees, Faith Communities Council of Victoria, the Islamic Council of Victoria, Jews For Refugees, Melbourne City Churches In Action (MCCIA), the Montmorency Asylum Seekers Support Group, Pax Christi Victoria, Refugee Action Collective (RAC), Refugee Council of Australia, The Sisters of the Good Samaritan and the Victorian Council of Churches. Students and staff of local Catholic schools were also present at the walk, including those from the Xavier Social Justice Network and Kilbreda College.