Thousands light candles for asylum seeker

February 24, 2014
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Last night, thousands of Australians gathered from Devonport to Darwin and Sydney to Alice Springs for a candlelight vigil in memory of an Iranian man killed on Manus Island last week.

Activist group GetUp says at least 15,000 people gave up their Sunday evening to attend 600 last minute protests across Australia, including a 4000-strong gathering at Sydney’s Town Hall.

The vigils were in memory of Reza Berati, a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker killed during violent scenes on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island one week ago.

Berati was allegedly stomped in the head last Monday night by PNG riot police during a prolonged protest at the low-security facility. At least 62 other asylum seekers were also injured.

With candles in hand, protestors aimed to send a message to the Abbott government that something needs to budge with Australia's stance on asylum seekers.

The Chaser’s Chris Taylor and actress Imogen Bailey, who was a participant on the SBS documentary program Go Back To Where You Came From, led crowds at the Sydney protest.

All round good Samaritan Tim Costello and Father Bob McGuire also spoke to more than 1000 attendees at Melbourne’s Federation Square.

“Many thousands of Australians tonight cried out for change,” said GetUp’s national director Sam Mclean.

“The truth is we just don’t know what’s happening in these places, the Government’s shut off the lights, taking censorship to an unprecedented level. We need a truly independent inquiry into the tragedy and proper public scrutiny of these places.”

The gruesome scenes at Manus Island have thrown more heat on the government’s controversial asylum seeker policy, however, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is standing firm on policy.

In the days following Berati’s death, Morrison said he was killed outside the detention centre while he and other detainees “absconded” from the “safety” provided inside the Australian centre.

Late last week, Morrison corrected himself by stating that Berati was more likely killed while inside the centre, and that his body will be repatriated to Iran according to his family’s wishes.

The rioting allegedly began last Sunday when the asylum seekers on Manus Island were told that they would not be settled on Papua New Guinea: a claim that Mr Morrison has denied making.

Berati left Java by boat in 2013, after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s declaration that no person who arrived at the country’s borders by boat would ever be settled in Australia. 

Kristen Daly