More than a thousand people travelled to Civic's Garema Place on Sunday to protest Australia's treatment of refugees and call on the government to "let them stay".
They joined thousands of people at rallies across Australia's capital cities.
Hedayat Osyan, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, told the crowd in Canberra his father, a high school teacher, was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2006 and killed.
"He was killed because he was from Hazara ethnicity," he said. "My mum decided to send me from there to save my life.
"No one wants to leave their friends, their family, their home."
He was 17 when he arrived at Christmas Island after six months of travel. Eventually, he was released. He said in 2013 he started studying politics and international relations at the University of Canberra, and plans to begin a PhD next year.
"We're not allowed to study in our home country of Afghanistan," he said. "But here we have equal opportunity, where we can chase our dream."
David Manne, executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, told the crowd he wanted to see a return to the Australia of the past when it came to refugees.
"For decades, this country has been one of the biggest promoters of refugee rights, it's been one of the biggest promoters of human rights globally," he said.
"Amid the Indo-Chinese refugee crisis we rose to the challenge as a country so that people didn't have to get on boats in large numbers. We re-settled in total 177,000 people in peril, and we can do it again."
The human rights lawyer has led multiple challenges of refugee and migration legislation in the country's highest court.
"To my mind the real challenge is not the next High Court challenge," he said.
"The real challenge that confronts us as a country is how we can find our way back on the treatment of refugees, so that we don't only meet the obligations that we have to people but ... we honour the wellbeing of one another as people, as human beings of equal and of precious worth."
Canon Roberta Hamilton, rector of the South Tuggeranong Anglican parish, and Sophie Singh, from the Canberra Refugee Action Committee, also addressed the crowd.
Ministers Shane Rattenbury and Yvette Berry helped lead the thousands of protesters on a march through the city, a line several hundred metres long.
Among the crowd were groups, identified by large banners strung across two poles, including Canberra Quakers, Academics for Refugees and Rural Australians for Refugees. They were joined by other religious and community organisations.