'Bloody Friday' in Villawood detention centre

May 6, 1998


'Bloody Friday' in Villawood detention centre

SYDNEY — The following report of a vicious attack on refugees in the Villawood Detention Centre is abridged from the Arab community newspaper, El-Telegraph. It was translated for Green Left Weekly by JENNIFER THOMPSON.

Human rights have been violently breached in the Villawood Detention Centre. Private security guards employed by Australian Correction Management's deportation service section used batons and electric cattle prods against detainees, causing injuries among the men, women and children.

On April 24, centre management informed a Somali woman refugee of the decision to deport her from Australia. They asked to take a photo of her. When she protested, she was forcefully grabbed, beaten, her veil removed and a photo taken. In protest, Somali refugees in the centre sat in the yard and declared a peaceful hunger strike.

Management demanded that they return to their rooms or be punished. The detainees responded that they were asserting their human rights and wanted to send a message about what had happened and what was going on in the centre.

Within minutes, about 30 security officers arrived and immediately started to beat the detainees with batons and electric cattle prods. The grass reportedly turned red from the victims' blood.

To keep the attack secret, only a pregnant woman and another woman in a very bad condition were taken to hospital. The other Somalis were put in special cells and given sedatives for pain, as some of them had their hands broken in the attack.

The protest spread through the whole centre and the security guards threatened the detainees with their guns. Some were arrested, including Iraqi and Kuwaiti refugees. The news spread to relatives and friends, and they gathered at the main gates of the centre.

Centre management called the police. When the police arrived, people outside the centre asked them to intervene to protect the detainees. The police said they had no authority to intervene.

We demand:

  • that an official body immediately intervene to prevent a repetition of what happened and that the injured people be transferred to hospital;

  • the formation of an official investigation committee, including the representatives of the security company, both judicial and executive authorities, and representatives of international and Australian human rights organisations;

  • a review of the role of the private security force, because this security force has become a paramilitary organisation like ones existing in the Third World;

  • a review of the privatisation process in the public sector to gauge its social impact, especially the privatisation of the very sensitive functions of the state, like managing the detention centres; and

  • that more attention be given to the human aspect of the refugee problem, especially families, which include children, in detention.

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