Weekly solidarity actions to support refugees detained at a Brisbane detention facility are becoming an important flashpoint. Last week marked the seventh week of organised solidarity.
“The protests are because there are 120 men detained in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel and Appartments,” organiser Jarrah Kershaw told Green Left.
“They began protesting about eight or nine weeks ago on their balconies [initially for two weeks] then we started joining them. Each week since then, it’s just grown — no matter what kind of police presence we’ve had.
“The refugees’ protest has extended. We’ve developed a good relationship with the guys inside and hopefully it will keep growing.”
The refugees have all come to Australia from Nauru or Manus Island for medical treatment under the Medevac legislation. That means they have all been in detention for around seven years. They all have passed multiple security checks, and many have confirmed refugee status.
Abdulla Moradi, one of those detained at Kangaroo Point, told Green Left that the refugees have been denied the medical care they need. They have been able to see nurses, or a GP, but have not had access to medical specialists, despite being brought to the country for treatment.
Moradi described the numerous petty indignities imposed by the Serco guards at Kangaroo Point. “They make you feel bad, they make you feel angry,” he said.
The refugees are all referred to by room number, and not their names, he said. “They want to show you, you are not human. They look at us the same as animals.”
The detention of refugees is a cruel and expensive policy, that should be abolished. However, the coronavirus pandemic has provided a powerful additional reason to demand their release.
Refugees in the facility do not have space to practice physical distancing and are regularly in contact with more than 100 Serco guards and hotel staff who come in and out. Any outbreak of the virus would likely spread quickly.
The police response was initially minimal, but has become increasingly draconian. Kershaw said that solidarity activists were complying with all the health regulations, including physical distancing.
But on May 8, around 30 cops turned up. According to Kershaw: “They just came in and tried to shut down the protest”. “That week six people were fined – they were all following the social distancing guidelines and having picnics two metres apart.”
Since then, the number of people fined has grown to 10, with more than $13,000 in total fines issued. “Most of those are going to be challenged,” Kershaw said.
Dr Kamala Emanuel was arrested on May 15 for holding a sign while exercising. She is one of the activists contesting the fines. “I support measures to stop the spread of the virus, but it is also critical to build pressure on the government now to free the refugees,” Emanuel told Green Left. “What I witnessed and experienced was clearly over-policing.”
Emanuel — who is also a doctor — emphasised that the goal of protecting public health will be undermined if people see police using health regulations to suppress civil liberties.
The Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has said that people retain the right to protest as long as physical distancing guidelines are observed.