Community pickets were set up at the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney’s west in early April. The aim was to physically block the transfer of 83 imprisoned asylum seekers to a remote facility in Curtin, Western Australia.
While the Department of Immigration and Border Control claimed the 4,500km move was to renovate Villawood, it was really a measure aimed at cutting asylum seekers off from their local support networks.
Many of the asylum seekers being moved were involved in a legal action against the government and were told of the move just a day before their court case was to be heard. The picket came after asylum seekers had initiated sit-in protests and a hunger strike.
The action was notable for its militant approach. Picketers were on standby outside the gates the night before the planned move. Organisers were focused on achieving the maximum level of disruption possible.
Ultimately riot police were used to break the picket, allowing two buses with tinted windows to get through. Protesters were subject to excessive police force similar to that used to demobilise anti-East West Tunnel pickets in Melbourne. One member of a humanitarian support group said in response to police aggression “we weren’t politicised, but we are now.”
While the picket did delay the transfer it was unable to stop it completely. The action did however make national headlines and combined with the successful Biennale boycott points towards the kind of direct action tactics that can be effective in the future.
Alongside direct action tactics it is also necessary is to convince broader layers of people to oppose the scapegoating of refugees. To do this, refugee activists must address ordinary people’s concerns about increasing economic insecurity and link the struggle for refugee rights to a broader struggle for jobs, homes and services for all.
By Ben Convey