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Melbourne Locals Welcome Syrian Refugees With Open Arms—and Butterflies

Welcome to Eltham

Welcome to Eltham – image courtesy Welcome to Eltham Facebook campaign page

Locals from the Melbourne suburb of Eltham are welcoming Syrian refugees soon to be resettled in their community with homemade “welcome butterflies.”

One hundred and twenty Syrians are to be accommodated in a disused part of an aged care facility. Their supporters have taken to the streets and social media — their Facebook page, Welcome to Eltham, has over 7,000 likes.

The group has adopted the butterflies as their symbol and decorated the town with them in order to counter anti-immigration hate: “Our butterflies are a reminder that even the smallest action can have a far-reaching effect.”

One resident, actor and singer Drew Weston, summed up the feeling:

This video explains their campaign:

Nearly 9,000 people have also signed a pledge on the Action Network to open their arms to refugees:

There are 11 million Syrian refugees in the world. Eltham has been asked to help 120.

We have the space in our town and in our hearts to show compassion and understanding.

Join Welcome to Eltham and make a pledge to say: refugees are welcome.

The refugees are part of special intake of 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis promised in 2015 by Tony Abbott's Australian government after public pressure.

Eltham residents’ enthusiastic response comes despite some opposition. Rival rallies took place on 5 November, with the pro-refugee side claiming victory on the day:

The right-wing protest was blamed on outsiders who do not live in the area:

The anti-refugee rally organisers, the Party for Freedom, explain on their Facebook page that their group:

rejects multiculturalism, advocates an immigration policy based on cultural compatibility, rejects Islam as fundamentally incompatible with these values, and is committed to regaining control of Australia’s borders.

There is at least one Not Welcome to Eltham Facebook page. It has had little activity, perhaps because it is restrained in its opposition.

Finally, this Welcome to Eltham video features local people reading comments made by online objectors:

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