The Gillard Government made a commitment in 2010 to release all children from immigration detention by June 2011, but still 1000 children languish in the harsh environment of immigration camps around Australia. The Refugee Action Collective organised a protest yesterday outside the Broadmeadows Detention Centre which currently houses 140 young asylum seekers from the ages of 13-18.
Related: Melbourne Protests report | MITA demonstration - different activist responses | Video of direct action at Broadmeadows Detention Centre: Detainees escape, activists capsicum sprayed and arrested | Youtube Videos - speech by Nicole Mousely, Video by izzywombat | Flickr photos by Takver | Refugee Action Collective - Vic
The protest attracted about 300 people with an initial rally in a car park at Hungry Jack's restaurant on the corner of Camp and Sydney Roads, Broadmeadows. The rally got under way shortly after 1pm with Greens MP Colleen Hartland making a short speech. Protesters unfurled their banners; balloons saying 'welcome refugees' were pumped with helium and handed out.
The protest follows a teenage boy who climbed five metres up a tree and refused to come down on Friday 18th March, in protest against his continuing detention. The protest on Saturday heard from one speaker how a SERCO guard taunted the kid to jump.
The Australian Human Rights Commission report tabled in 2004 found that "children in Australian immigration detention centres had suffered numerous and repeated breaches of their human rights. In particular, the Inquiry found that Australia's immigration detention policy failed to protect the mental health of children, failed to provide adequate health care and education and failed to protect unaccompanied children and those with disabilities."
The protesters walked the short distance to Sydney Road where the marchers held up their banners to the traffic heading north on the Hume Highway. Then moving onto Camp Road and marching about a kilometre up to the detention centre with a police escort.
The front gates of the detention centre were shut and padlocked of course with police and SERCO security officers behind the gates. The protesters hired platform truck set up for speakers was parked in front of the gate. Evidently most of the children in detention had been taken by bus on an excursion of the Great Ocean Road.
The Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation is located on an old military site called Maygar Barracks, located on Camp Road in Broadmeadows. It was established by the Howard Government in 2005. At the time the local ALP member for Calwell, Maria Vamvakinou, opposed this detention centre being set up, but I couldn't see any Labor MPs in the crowd at this protest.
People milled and listened to several speakers, including Sue Bolton from the Refugee Action Collective, Hyder Gulam the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Gilios Kogoya a West Papuan refugee, Nicole Mousely - a refugee advocate who regularly visits the children in this detention centre (Watch video of this speaker), Wayne Klempel an AMWU northern suburbs trade union official, and Alex Bhathal from the Greens.
Occasionally throughout the afternoon a helium balloon escaped and drifted skyward. Towards the end of the rally in front of the gates the rest of the balloons were released to float over the detention camp. While people listened to the speeches, a blank banner was unrolled and marker pens produced for people to add messages to the banner, which would later be delivered inside the camp.
Three teenagers managed to escape, with one climbing two barbed wire topped fences to reach the rally. First aid was sought and an ambulance was called to attend. According to Peter from Melbourne Protests "Most dramatic, three boys managed to escape as far as the forecourt, where they were quickly surrounded by a protective circle of sympathisers. Unfortunately, one cut himself on the barbed wire in the process and relapsed into shock. An ambulance had to be called, and after some while he seemed quite recovered. After much discussion an agreement was reached by which the three agreed to return voluntarily to the centre, on the basis that there would then be no adverse repercussions …. In the meantime, the ambulance had been summoned to the centre itself, where the word was that there had been another instance of self-harm. This could not be confirmed."
The rally wound up with a march back down Camp road about 4pm to the Hungry Jack's Car Park off Sydney Road. It was announced another protest is being planned in about two weeks time.
Professor Louise Newman, a psychiatrist, has written recently about the issue of children in immigration detention. She is Director of the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology and Chairwoman of the Detention Health Advisory Group to the Department of Immigration:
"Australia has the dubious honour of being the first developed nation to have a policy of mandatory detention for all 'unauthorised' arrivals for an indefinite period of time (Silove, Austin and Steel 2007). Detention of children has highlighted what may be seen as a fundamental tension between the priorities of immigration law and the rights of children to care and protection."
"Although Australia is a voluntary signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child we remain fundamentally in breach of this and related conventions." she said. "In the midst of debates about the appropriate responses to asylum seekers, infants and children have become caught in a system that is unable to provide adequate protection or support for families who have already experienced significant trauma."
Time for the Gillard Government to live up to its promise of freeing all children from the harsh realities of immigration detention.