On Monday 27 June 2011, three activists will appear in Fairfield Local Court in response to charges related to a protest on the roof of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s electoral office.
The activists climbed the roof in solidarity with detainees on the roof at Villawood detention centre. This formed part of a series of protests in and around detention centres across the Australia in April this year. We are witnessing the resurgence of a movement, led by detainees and supported by many in the Australian community, both in spirit and in action.
Detainees in Villawood started their protest following continuous refusals by the Immigration Department to meet with them and to progress their visa applications. More than a dozen detainees climbed the roof, while others occupied various spaces in the centre. During the disturbances some of the buildings caught fire. Detainees pledged to stay on the roof, and to maintain a hunger strike, until the questions about their cases were answered.
Around the same time, hundreds of detainees in Curtin (W.A) held a hunger strike and sit-in. Fifty refugee activists travelled to Curtin to visit the centre, but were refused entry. Detainees started the hunger strike in order to pressure Serco (the company who is contracted to run Australian detention centres) and the Immigration Department to allow the visits. On the outside, the visiting activists blocked the road to the military base where Curtin’s detention centre is located, leading to 17 arrests.
On Easter Monday, hundreds of activists in Melbourne and Sydney converged on Villawood and Maribyrnong, calling for an end to mandatory detention and supporting the demands of refugees.
Following the Villawood protests, 22 detainees were removed to Silverwater prison. Lawyers representing the prisoners reported that refugees were locked in solitary confinement, for 18 hours per day with no access to communication. Basic amenities like showers, toothbrushes and toilet paper, were denied.
Seven refugees remain in Silverwater today, remanded until the outcome of their criminal trials, while the remainder have been sent to Maribyrnong, presumably to keep them from organising with their companions in Villawood.
The Labor Government has since reported that it wants to send hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia, following the refusal of East Timor to participate in a new ‘Pacific Solution’. Thirty protestors stormed a university lecture to interrupt a speech by Chris Bowen last week, protesting the ‘Malaysia deal’.
In 2011, the federal government increased its border protection budget from $654 million to $1.2 billion. It has also signed a $1 billion contract with Serco to run the detention system. Countless hours and millions are spent in negotiations with foreign powers about who is responsible for whom.
Why does the Australian Government spend so much money and time criminalising people who come to Australia to escape persecution and poverty, while facilitating entry for hundreds of thousands of people on skilled migrant, working holiday, temporary work and student visas?
Immigration control is not about stopping profit-making by people smuggling. It is about enabling profit-making for Australian and foreign business. Immigration control enables the Australian government and other governments to decide what the labour market looks like, who participates in it, and how much they get from participating in it. Immigration control feeds the needs of business for workers with precarious rights. Immigration control enables the government to demonise asylum seekers and mark them out as scapegoats for its own failures to meet the needs of Australian residents frustrated by failing health, education and social welfare systems.
Let’s not be confused about where our interests lie.
The burgeoning refugee rights movement in Australia today shows that the Australian community is again acknowledging that it has more in common with the people who come here struggling for a better life than we do with the powers that paint us as enemies.
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