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In Melbourne, Australia, People Rallied for and Against Welcoming Refugees

  • VOA News

FILE - Protestors against asylum seekers being deported, gather for a rally in Sydney, Australia, Feb. 4, 2016.

FILE - Protestors against asylum seekers being deported, gather for a rally in Sydney, Australia, Feb. 4, 2016.

Hundreds of people rallied in Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday after a proposal to house refugees locally drew people both for and against the measure.

Protesters belonging to anti-Islam groups said they were against a plan to settle 120 refugees from Syria and Iraq at a senior housing facility in the Eltham neighborhood.

Anti-immigration demonstrators carried Australian flags and marched near the Eltham’s Andrew Park. Police presence kept groups separated to avoid clashes.

Pro-refugee supporters, part of the group "Welcome to Eltham," carried colorful signs that read “Eltham says yes to refugees.”

“Most people sort of, keep to themselves. A lot of them are in their eighties and nineties and yes, they just keep to themselves. They are a bit concerned about it but they will just wait and see,” John Conroy, resident of Saint Vincent’s Care Services, said.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that locals were discussing the idea to settle refugees in the St. Vincent’s facility, but mostly they were not happy that people from other areas were flooding to Eltham to demonstrate.

Australia has a tough immigration policy and asylum-seekers trying to reach the continent are sent to camps on Nauru or Papua New Guinea, where their status as refugees are either accepted or rejected.

Protesters react as they hold placards and listen to speakers during a rally in support of refugees in central Sydney, Australia, Oct. 19, 2015.

Protesters react as they hold placards and listen to speakers during a rally in support of refugees in central Sydney, Australia, Oct. 19, 2015.

In 2015, the Australian government announced a one-time proposal to accept 12,000 refugees who were running away from areas of conflict such as Iraq and Syria.

But last week, officials announced a plan to permanently ban asylum seekers who try to reach the continent by boat from entering under any visa category.

Meanwhile in Sydney others decided to rally for the closing of detention centers—places that have been heavily criticized by human rights groups.

“The detention centers are no suitable environments for the health of all detainees, but the effects on children are far worse,” Brian Owler, president of the Australian Medical Association, said in a statement.

According to immigration figures as of August 31, there are close to 1,589 asylum-seekers among them 1,382 men, 114 women and 93 children being held on Manus Island and Nauru.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government is maintaining a dialogue with other countries, such as the Philippines, to settle refugees.

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