Celebrating diversity: Cultural groups came together for the National Day of Unity walk on Saturday. Photo: Dominic LorrimerA Sydney Muslim leader has spoken out strongly against the treatment of refugees as thousands of Australians walked around the nation in a big shout-out to support refugees.
Ahmad Malas, of the Lebanese Muslim Association, told a Sydney crowd of about 600 that the current political and public climate surrounding Islam made it increasingly difficult for Australian Muslims and others to feel welcome.
“We have had enough of hearing divisive language, so no more politics of fear, no more Team Australia, no more racist talk and no more shifting the blame to any community and holding it to account for the actions of the few,” he told a gathering in Prince Alfred Park, Surry Hills.
The crowd had walked along the footpath down Cleveland Street from Victoria Park chanting “Say it loud, say it clear. Refugees are welcome here”.
They were taking part in the Walk Together to celebrate diversity and respect for people of different faiths and backgrounds.
Some motorists tooted horns in support, others yelled abuse after being prevented from turning into side streets until the procession passed. Some residents came out on to upstairs balconies of terrace houses to clap and cheer support.
Organisers pointed out it was not a march or a rally but a walk, part of a National Day of Unity which saw walks in 25 other cities and towns and 14 mosques around Australia open their doors to the wider community as part of National Mosque Open Day.
The Sydney walk attracted a diverse crowd, including young women wearing head scarves and draped in the Australian flag. Others walked under banners proclaiming the Uniting Church, the Socialist Alliance, Grandmothers Against Detention for Refugee Children, and the Land Rights flag.
Politicians, including federal MPs Michelle Rowland(Labor, Greenway), Craig Laundy (Liberal, Reid) addressed the gathering while federal colleague Jason Clare (Labor, Blaxland) and the state Labor MP for Lakemba Jihad Dibwatched.
The star turn of the speakers was Najeeba Wazefadost.
She was smuggled out of Afghanistan when she was 12 and came to Australia on an asylum seeker boat in 2000 and graduated a medical doctor 10 years later.
Holding her arms out wide she told the crowd: “I am the living of the benefits of giving refugees a voice and a symbol of hope.”
The crowd started cheering as she recalled being locked up on arrival “in a place the Australian government call detentions centres. Today I have a new terminology for this, we should call it a prison. We were locked like criminals for having down no crime our only crime was we wanted to seek protection.”
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