Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Villawood detainees protest for refugee rights

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On September 20 Josefa Rauluni jumped to his death from the roof of Sydney’s Villawood detention centre. The 36 year old Fijian man was due to be deported along with his nephew only a few hours after his suicide. He had climbed onto the roof in an attempt to plead asylum. Rauluni had been active in the Fiji Democracy and Freedom Movement and there was clear evidence to suggest that his life would be endangered upon return to Fiji, where a military junta is in power.

On top of the roof Rauluni spent just over an hour demanding negotiations for asylum stating that he would prefer suicide over returning to the repression in Fiji. But instead of granting his request, or even sending in an official to discuss with him, the detention centre responded with callous disregard for his safety. There are reports that security was sent to the roof to handcuff and detain Rauluni, and that staff placed a mattress under the roof and told him to jump.

Worse still, when Rauluni jumped to his death his body was left on the ground, in plain view of detainees, including his nephew, for five hours. In the aftermath of his death protests were sparked throughout the detention centre. Hunger strikes ensued and several more refugees scaled the roof also demanding asylum.

The reality of Villawood is one of severe abuse and psychological torture for those detained. The policies of mandatory detention and off-shore processing clearly create conditions which generate and perpetuate mental illness amongst the detainees. Psychiatrist Dr Michael Dudley calculated that the men’s and women’s rates of suicidal behaviours in detention centres are 41 and 26 times the national average, respectively.

As it stands now, there are 4,619 refugees in detention in Australia, including 2,408 on Christmas Island and 2,211 in mainland facilities. Severe overcrowding has seen people forced to live in tents on Christmas Island. The infamous Curtin detention centre was reopened and expanded this year and malnutrition and psychological trauma is a fact of life for detained refugees.

The fact that some of those involved in the recent Villawood protests have won concessions from the government shows that struggle points a way forward. The protests inside and outside the detention centres should be supported by all workers.

Attacks on asylum seekers are an attack on all working people. The divide and rule tactics used by the major parties only divert attention from the real problems facing ordinary people. Budget cuts, continuing privatisation, attacks on workers rights as well as the ever rising cost of living are all swept under the carpet by thescapegoating of refugees.

What is needed is a renewed campaign of action for refugee rights. We need to explain the link between the campaign for the rights of asylum seekers and the fight to change society. The Socialist Party campaigns for a world where people are not forced to flee the horrors of war and persecution. We need a system that brings the wealth of the world into the hands of the majority and provides a decent life for all.

By Corey Snoek


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