MITA demonstration- Different activist responses

A march and rally in support of the 140+ young refugees being held in long term detention at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA )in Broadmeadows was held on Saturday April 3. Despite poor weather 200-250 people gathered thanks to a good promotional effort from protest organisers Refugee Action Collective (RAC). After gathering in a car park on the corner of Sydney Road at 1pm the crowd marched down Camp Road to the entrance of MITA where speeches from a variety of refugee advocates, former detainees and others condemned the overcrowded conditions in the camp as well as the practice of locking up children in general.

Later in the gathering, some protesters began rocking back and forth on the gates to the entrance of the compound. Those running the stage requested they desist arguing that the rally and RAC had brought together a coalition of different groups together on the basis that such action would not occur. A small number of protesters left at this point.

Most of the crowd (including this writer) were unaware that those at the fence had spotted a young refugee running within the grounds of the compound. The first time many realized that a break out had occurred was when the young man clambered over a side fence cutting himself on barbed wire in the process. Two other teenage refugees who had escaped further down Camp Road then came running into the crowd looking for help.

Unfortunately no one appeared to have planned for this. The possibility that those inside the camp would take action should have been considered and prepared for, especially given the recent spate of refugee uprisings around the country. On the other hand a rumour had spread earlier that all the boys had been taken on an excursion for the day and at least some present were unaware that anyone was still inside.

Reactions to the escape were varied. A large section of the protest helped the exhausted and injured boys to a spot by a wall and then surrounded them to prevent any attempt at recapture by the police or security. Things became somewhat confused. Amongst the crowd some felt that if the boys wanted to leave then the protest should surround them and march off while the police were outnumbered. Others were concerned that in lieu of adequate support networks the boys would eventually have to return to custody and that leaving the site would affect their ability to claim asylum. For the boys’ part they seemed bewildered with many different people talking to them. As one of the boys had been cut by the barbed wire while scaling the fence an ambulance was called.

In the meantime those on stage did not address what had occurred and failed to suggest that the crowd surround and protect the boys. Their decision to continue with speeches as if nothing had happened was surreal given that three vulnerable refugees who had just freed themselves were sitting metres away. Whether those running the stage did this because they were worried about losing control of the protest (which had happened as soon as the boys broke out), because they were worried at enflaming the situation or because they didn’t know what else to do was unclear. However their response was at the very least inadequate and only added to the overall confusion.
In the midst of all this the small number of police who had earlier sealed off the entry road, as well as those stationed inside the gates, remained stationary. A small number of extra police were brought in, but made no move towards the protest. Whether anyone was negotiating with the police was unclear and once more in lieu of information from the stage, or anywhere else for that matter, rumours began to circulate.

After some musicians on stage failed to get anyone to join in on percussion and the speeches wound up the MC announced that the rally was over and that people would soon be marching off. No update on the boys’ situation was given and no explanation offered as to who would remain to assist them. Some of the protesters began firming up to leave while the rest remained with the boys. Around this time the paramedics arrived to check on their condition.

In the meantime some protesters dressed in orange overalls reading “Australia’s Guantanamo” attempted to take direct action. One made it through the fence via a fire equipment cupboard and began scaling a second, inner fence before being arrested. Two others attempted to lock on to the gates and shut the centre down. Before they were able to do so they were assaulted by police who sprayed them in the face with capsicum spray. Some protesters immediately went to their aid pouring water on their faces to alleviate the extreme pain they were suffering.

The paramedics announced shortly after that as the boys had not sustained major injuries they would not remove them from the site. They did not assist the people who had been capsicum sprayed although it’s possible they did not know that it had happened. The ambulance then entered MITA. What may have occurred inside the centre to require this remained unknown.

By this time some of the protesters had begun negotiating for the boys to be allowed to return inside so long as they would not be victimized or face major repercussions. Although MITA management were yet to respond and it remained unclear as to what the boys wanted to do or what their fate might entail, half of the remaining demonstrators chose to march off at this point with red flags aflying.

The 50 or 60 people who remained to support the escapees and injured protesters remained on site for up to an hour until an agreement was reached. Although MITA would not allow the boys to be accompanied on site by a lawyer and/or supporters they agreed that the only punishment would be a week’s suspension for excursions and that supporters would be allowed to check on their situation in the coming days.

No doubt the boy’s escape and the police violence, as well as activists’ reactions to these events, will be hotly debated in the weeks to come.



Right on. Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance should be ashamed of themselves. Just shows that when they meet real, live people in struggle they have no idea what to do except shout slogans- fat lot of help that was!

since when does mita take 140 boys on excursions??! stupid assumption. seems repercussions for boys inside - those they are trying to help - were not thought hrough.

Well written Anonymous!

I would like to second that, i am aware of many actions of so called advocates who merely do more harm to the asylum seekers, stirring them up and staff up at centres,

They claim they visit regularly yet their visits encourage and exemplify poor behaviours being modelled, rules being blatantly broken, illegal items smuggled in, encouraging clients to also break rules. They consistently give false hope to the clients in detention and are not there to deal with the after fact.

They are ignorant to so many of the reality of the asylum seekers issues, i have over heard them asking the clients they just met about their trauma and torture topics, their boat numbers, it is horrific what these so called advocates do and dont do.

They have some facts correct like asylum seekers are not illegal but do they realise that some of the actions they perform cause things like this harmed boy at the protest. They forget that staff who work with families and children are more trained and qualified than most of them, they have welfare backgrounds, migrant/refugee backgrounds themselves, all sorts of training and experiences, they are not the dumb harsh security guards they are painted as.

I know all these advocates have studied International Development etc, merely theory not reality, and so many protestors are those professional protestors our Australian's know only too much about. You see them at all the protests, choose a cause you believe in guys, peaceful protests are great, petitions are fantastic, appropriate and well mannered support and advocacey are always welcome. Why not sign up as an official volunteer to visit the centres or places such as ASRC, get some training, be professional and therefore have maximum effects for the clients. The clients are meant to be the focus after all. Not how much fence rattling and screaming you can do, not how many asylum seekers you can add on facebook and parade in front of your friends.

I congratulate those protestors who have a heart and intelligence. Those who helped the young boy who was hurt and showed true concern for them. Those who visit, advocate and support in all sorts of way for the many organisations who support professionally and empathically.

I thank the writer for this insight, being interstate and unable to attend, it is good to read the real perspectives.

You make some valid points, but there is something a quite unbalanced and strange about your comment. Why do you refer to refugees as "the clients"? Why are you so quick to condemn refugee supporters in such extremist terms? As you point out, it's true that some supporters are ignorant, some say and do insensitive things and some burn out quicker than others, but I find it strange that you say "it is horrific what these so called advocates do and dont do."

Is it your contention that it's the people who make friends with and support refugees/"clients" who are "horrific" not the people who incarcerate them? I think there would be a lot of refugees/"clients" who would argue against this assertion.

Your choice of language in calling them "clients" suggests that you may be employed in some professional capacity by the government or welfare industry. Perhaps I'm wrong and you refer to refugees as "clients" for some other reason. I'm sure there are plenty of good people employed to work professionally with these "clients" but I'm also aware that this group has a very mixed track record in relation to how they treat refugees/"clients" and this also cannot be denied.

I find it interesting that for someone calling for "appropriate and well mannered support" and "professionalism" and "empathy", your comment comes across as extremist and unbalanced. You characterise supporters and their behaviour as "horrific" but then protest that dentition centre staff are painted as "dumb harsh security guards." What comes across in this comment is a real and somewhat irrational hatred of supporters, for example when you claim "I know all these advocates have studied International Development etc, merely theory not reality, and so many protesters are those professional protesters our Australian's know only too much about. You see them at all the protests." This simply cannot be true and suggests that you have a very biased view of supporters.

Do you dislike anything that challenges the system of rules and controls the "clients" are forced to live under? Is it possible that you dislike supporters and people who have contact with refugees but are not employed by the system that incarnates them or the welfare system because they make your job of keeping refugees/"clients" under control more difficult? Do you have a problem with supporters coming in from the outside because they place employees under scrutiny and draw attention to their very mixed track record in how they treat refugees/"clients"? Are you uncomfortable with any form of protest that does not conform to what you personally consider valid or acceptable? Do you want to discourage any form of protest or visiting by outsiders that draws attention and scrutiny to the way refugees/"clients" are treated by detention/welfare employees?

I'm not trying to be rude and as I stated, I think you have made some valid points and would be pleased to read any response you have to my thoughts, preferably without resorting to extremist characterisations.

Thankyou so much Anonymous for posting your observations from the rally at Broadmeadows - this is exactly what Indymedia is for, to allow a platform for activists to critically analysis actions.

Your account of the event of Broadmeadows sounds uncannily like what happened during the Woomera breakout in 2000. During that protest a large number of detainees broke out of the camp and joined the protestors outside. At the time members of a number of socialist organistaions (the descendants of the ones controlling the stage on Saturday) argued against respecting the rights of the detainees to make their own decisions - which in that case was to escape. They argued we should march along with the detainees until the police rearrested them. It should be noted that members of the Socialist Pary did not argue this at the time. Luckily other protestors ignored this and instead helped spirit the detainees away and a number of them successfully escapeed and were on the run for up to two years until THEY decided to hand themselves back into the authorities.

The movement has no right to undermine and disempower detainees as they seek to protest their own incarceration. If those boys chose to jump the fence it is because they wanted to make a public statement about their incarceration.

It is also clear that many people at the rally on Saturday are perfectly happy to make symbolic acts of protest about mandatory detention but are not able to show SOLIDARITY either to the detainees who escaped or the fellow activists who were capscium sprayed or arrested. What is more important to them is to maintain control over the rally.

Thanks once again for your account of this rally anonymous.

To the member of SERCO the DIMMA or the police or whoever you are - you can take your defintion of polite inneffective respectable proest and stick it!!!