As protests continue in refugee detention centres around the country we publish this article that was originally printed in the March 2011 edition of ‘The Socialist’.
Hundreds of asylum seekers at Western Australia’s Curtin Detention Centre began a protest on January 17 against processing delays and asylum rejections. Curtin Detention Centre currently holds 1100 Afghan asylum seekers who where previously subjected to a Visa freeze.
By Jas Shepherd, Socialist Party
The same day as the protest a deal was announced by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen between Australia and Afghanistan. The ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ will see Afghans whose asylum claims have been rejected forcibly sent back to Afghanistan.
The number of people involved in the protest was disputed, with the Immigration Department playing down the numbers involved, quoting 30-40 people. However detainees in the centre and refugee advocates reported the figure to be between 350 and 1,000.
Hundred’s participated in a hunger strike while one person who had been on the strike for over a week had to be treated for dehydration. The protest involved detainees boycotting the mess hall at the centre and holding mass sit-ins.
More than 300 Afghan asylum seekers stayed overnight in a compound outside the centre’s immigration offices. They held placards, sheets and pillows with slogans of protest on them such as “protection not detention” and “we want freedom or death”. Another detainee was hospitalised after a friend saved them from attempting suicide. In fact there have been a number of other recent incidences of attempted self harm among detainees.
It has been reported that in response to the protests internet access and use of the recreational room was cut. The protesters were specifically calling for immigration officials to come from Canberra to explain why there were such long delays in processing.
A solidarity action for the hunger strike was held by refugee activists at Lenora Detention Centre on January 21 calling for an end to mandatory detention.
The hunger strike ended after four days only after the Department of Immigration promised to speed up the processing of claims.
Since 2008 approximately 4300 Afghani refugees have arrived in Australia by boat. 2,700 of these remain in detention. The majority of Afghan refugees have had to leave their homeland due to war, repression and persecution. These issues are made worse in occupied Afghanistan where Australian troops play a direct role in contributing to the instability that exists in that country.
These protests highlight the appalling conditions that refugees face in detention. The Governments policy of locking asylum seekers up for extended periods of time is not only in breech of international conventions but it also undermines the legal and human rights of everyone. If we let them get away with treating refugees like this they will try it on other vulnerable sections of society next.
The Socialist Party campaigns for the closing down of all detention centres and an end to the policy of mandatory detention. We fight for a socialist world where war and persecution would become a thing of the past and people’s needs would be met by democratically sharing society’s wealth in the interests of all.