MELBOURNE - Several hundred people rallied in the suburbs of Melbourne Saturday, after a proposal to house refugees locally drew protest by far right anti-islam groups as well as counter protests.
Political debate around Australia’s hard-line policy towards asylum seekers has been heated recently. Last week the conservative government announced plans to ban asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia by boat from permanently entering under any visa category.
Dozens of people belonging to the anti-Islam groups rallied Saturday against a proposal to house 120 refugees from Syria and Iraq at a housing facility for elderly citizens in the Melbourne suburb of Eltham.
“They (the elderly citizens) are a bit concerned about it, but they will just wait and see,” John Conroy a resident of the facility said.
A heavy police presence separated the anti-Islam group from more than 100 people rallying in favor of the proposal. Previous protests between anti-immigration and pro-immigration groups have led to violent clashes.
Australia’s current policy of sending asylum seekers who arrive in Australian waters by boat offshore to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where their status as refugees is confirmed or rejected, has bipartisan support in the Australian parliament.
Last year the government announced a one-time intake of 12,000 refugees fleeing the conflict in Iraq and Syria, saying that ethnic minorities from those countries would be given priority.
Far right political parties are on the rise in Australia, with the controversial One Nation party surprising many by winning four Senate seats at the country’s national elections in July.