Break the Silence: Rally for Refugees at Garema Place.

Break the Silence: Rally for Refugees at Garema Place. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

A former refugee will arrive in Canberra on Friday after walking from Melbourne pulling a model of the boat in which his family fled Vietnam.

Tri Nguyen is due to arrive at 1pm after his 35-day walk and will launch his boat on Lake Burley Griffin.

A pro-refugee rally of several thousand people in Civic on Sunday cheered enthusiastically when told of the plan. Organisers said Mr Nguyen wanted to present the model boat to Parliament to thank Australia for the gift of refuge granted to his family in 1982.

Placards among the crowd at Garema Place for the Rally for Refugees. Click for more photos

Break the Silence: Rally for Refugees at Garema Place.

Placards among the crowd at Garema Place for the Rally for Refugees. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The rally in Garema Place was part of nationwide demonstrations against current asylum seeker policies.

In an emotional speech, Mustafa Jawadi said his family fled Afghanistan and spent two months in detention on Christmas Island and nearly three years on Nauru before being granted asylum in Australia.

He arrived in Canberra in 2004 when he was 14 and is now a mechanic. Mr Jawadi said he spent eight terrifying days on an overcrowded boat before it was intercepted by the Australian navy.

''It's a shame to see children in detention, it's stopping them from studying and going to school and is ruining their childhood,'' he said, to cries of ''shame'' from the crowd.

''I have no idea what the government is thinking, giving bridging visas to the new arrivals and keeping the children in detention and not letting them work or study. I hope they will come to their senses and change their minds.''

Pat Power, retired Catholic bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, questioned the mandate behind the Operation Sovereign Borders policy of the Abbott government.

''During the last federal election campaign we witnessed an obscene contest where the Labor and Coalition parties were seemingly trying to outdo each other with tough and cynical rhetoric aimed at frightening the electorate away from a compassionate, fair and humane approach to the plight of some of the world's most needy people,'' he said.

''Voters had Hobson's choice in trying to separate ALP and Coalition policies in this whole question. In such a scenario I dispute that the Abbott government has a mandate to continue enacting its current harsh and inhumane policies.

''My heart almost freezes every time the Prime Minister or his Minister for Immigration appear on television with more of their heartless language in relation to desperate people searching for hope and for a future.''

Bishop Power said Pope Francis had said refugees were not ''pawns on the chessboard of humanity''.

''Isn't this precisely how they are being treated by Tony Abbott's government?'' he said.

Unions ACT secretary Kim Sattler, who is critical of Coalition and ALP policies, said the rally meant more people were saying ''yes to refugees'' to demonstrate Australia was a compassionate nation.