Friday, April 14, 2006
ACTIVISTS RATTLE THE GATES AT REFUGEE DETENTION CENTER
While the US has been the scene of massive demonstrations on immigrant rights, Australia goes about its business of herding refugees into detention facilities.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said those seeking refugee status and who reach the mainland will be sent to off shore camps.
Since 2001 those arriving on the mainland were handled under the Australian legal process.
Under the new system, all new arrivals by boat would have their claims handled as if they were in a UN refugee camp. They would not have access to review processes under Australian law and, if their claims were upheld, could be settled in a third country.
The move follows a diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia over the issue of refugees. In March, Jakarta recalled its envoy to Canberra over Australia's decision to grant refugee status to 42 people from Papua province. There has been a low-level separatist insurgency for decades in Papua province and the Papuan refugees, some of whom were said to be pro-independence activists, were fleeing Indonesian oppression.
The first article below is from the Herald Sun in Australia. The second is a more on the scene report from Sydney IMC.
Protests over detainees at Holsworthy
ABOUT 80 refugee activists protested at Sydney's Holsworthy Army Barracks today, rattling gates and demanding access to 160 immigration detainees who had been transferred to the facility.
Officials turned down the protesters' requests to visit the detainees, who are among 260 temporarily relocated from Sydney's Villawood detention centre because of asbestos fears.
Refugee action groups had threatened to break through the barrack's flimsy gates but did not attempt to follow through on the threat.
About 20 police from the operational support group, flanked by dog squad officers inside the gate, had been prepared to call nearby reinforcements if required, but were not forced to act.
At least 200 people had been expected at the barracks to protest against the Federal Government's newly announced policy of processing all asylum seekers offshore.
The 80 activists who gathered in searing heat about 1pm (AEST) chanted slogans and abuse and heard speeches at the Holsworthy gate for about an hour.
They agreed to reform tonight at the empty Villawood detention centre, where some activists planned to camp overnight.
NSW Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said today's protest was focused on highlighting poor conditions at the barracks and the Government's new hardline refugee policies.
An Immigration Department spokesman denied Mr Rintoul's claims that Holsworthy detainees had been cut off from information about the protest by being refused access to televisions, radios and computers.
The Department was also satisfied the detainees had been fed and housed adequately given the 36 hours notice they had of the relocation, the spokesman said.
Mr Rintoul claimed the detainees had gone without food on Wednesday when they were moved from Villawood.
He said they were sleeping four to a room in dusty buildings marked with asbestos warnings, adding to health concerns created by the Villawood asbestos scare.
They were being housed too close to a site on the grounds officially contaminated with dangerous asbestos, he said.
The Immigration Department spokesman confirmed buildings housing the detainees had asbestos warnings on them but said they were a precaution meant for workmen who might disturb it.
"Otherwise they were safe," the spokesman said.
"The Department is satisfied the contractor GSL has supplied the detainees with adequate facilities for this temporary location."
The spokesman said the detainees were housed two kilometres from the dangerous asbestos at the barracks. They would all be returned to Villawood by April 21.
Detainee visits were halted at 11am (AEST) today for the day because of police concerns about the protest and would be resumed as soon as possible, he said.
Federal opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said he was not surprised there were protests today.
"The Government knew about this asbestos (at Villawood) years ago and if they'd acted as soon as they'd found out about it you wouldn't have had the mess we've had in the past week," Mr Burke said.
Villawood Protest Day 1
Spirited actions for human liberation took place today as a diverse mix of people converged on Villawood detention center to protest the tyrannical regime that keeps refugees locked up.
The protest started when people marched on the Holsworthy Army Barracks where 160 Villawood detainees had been moved. The uncanny timing of an asbestos scare at Villawood detention center was the governments excuse for the relocation.
People then converged at Campbell Hill Reserve, where a camp site was organised just opposite. The march then setoff to the detention center.
A 15 minute march was loud with chants. Support came from passing motorists beeping their horns and people looking on from their houses.
The back gate to the detention center was the target point. It was well barricaded with plenty of police on guard. This was no deterrent though. There were many speeches from people of all ages. One young boy got the loudest cheer when he proclaimed that 'animals and people should not be kept in cages'.
There was lots of singing led by people on the loudspeaker, and also a rap where the crowd chanted as a beat and chorus while the rapper spoke of refugee and and aboriginal stories of oppression and survival.
The protest remained peaceful with no provocations from the police.