Residents on Camp Road, Broadmeadows, were surprised to see 300 people marching down their street on April 2, calling for an end to the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. The march ended with a rally at the Broadmeadows detention centre, known as Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.
About 150 young asylum seekers between the ages of 13 and 17 are held in this centre. All of them are unaccompanied: meaning that they have no families with them.
Most of these young asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Some have been in detention for more than 12 months in several different detention centres across Australia.
Many of the young people inside are recognised as refugees and some have been waiting more than three months for security clearances from ASIO.
During the rally, three young men escaped from the centre. One had the words “We want freedom” inscribed on his T-shirt. One threatened to kill himself if he was returned to the detention centre. After a few hours, they voluntarily returned to the centre despite their distress at being in detention and not knowing their future.
The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) organised the protest to draw attention to the federal government’s failure to fulfil its promise of October 2010 to release all children from detention. The latest figures indicate the number of children in detention has risen to 1040.
The rally also highlighted that mandatory detention of asylum seekers is destructive for anyone, regardless of age, but especially destructive for young people.
RAC member Nicole Mousely told the crowd: “I’ve been visiting this detention centre twice a week for more than four months and help to organise a visiting program.
“Although I will never truly know what it is like to have the same experiences, I have gained a pretty good understanding of the issues these young people have faced in their home countries, the treacherous journey by boat, and the issues they continue to face in their daily life inside this prison.”
Mousley said the young refugees have to deal with “the trauma of events back home” and then “our government takes these vulnerable people and re-traumatises them through the detention system”.
“The majority of young asylum seekers and refugees inside this centre suffer from depression and at least two thirds to three quarters are on anti-depressants.”
Other speakers included Kumar Pathmanathan from the Tamil Refugee Council; Wayne Klempel from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union; Colleen Hartland, Greens MLC; Hyder Gulam, president of the Islamic Council of Victoria; Gilios Kogoya, West Papuan activist and refugee; Alex Bhathal, a Greens activist; and Jacob Lay, a high school student, who read a statement from the point of view of someone the same age as the young people locked up inside.
The protest received support from the Tamil Refugee Council, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Victorian Council of Churches, the Australia West Papua Association, the Father McGuire Foundation, the Greens, the Kurdish Association of Victoria, the Communication Workers Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Federation of Muslim Students and Youth and Gary Murray, traditional owner and spokesperson for the Broadmeadows Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.
RAC’s next rally will be outside Maribyrnong detention dentre, 1pm on April 25 to coincide with nation wide protests outside detention centres.