The Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) refugee centre in Broadmeadows has beds for 50 people. It housed 46 unaccompanied refugee teenagers until the government expanded the facility to detain more refugees.
The centre now detains 132 boys, all aged under 17. The youngest is 13 or 14. Most of the boys are unclear about their own ages, and many don’t carry any form of ID, passports or birth certificates.
After the arrival of 98 new people, there was a “riot” on November 13. Forty were injured and seven hospitalised.
The fight developed because there were only six internet computers to share between 132 people. They were fighting because none of the newly arrived refugees had been able to contact their families to tell them they had been moved.
Most refugees in MITA are Pashtuns or Hazaras from Afghanistan, but there are also Iranians, Kurds and Iraqis. All the children are boys and the local priest said it was Afghan custom to send the first-born away in wartime.
A group of activists from the Refugee Action Collective visited MITA on November 19 with a list of 15 people to visit.
We were herded, after discussions with security, into a meeting room with our boxes of fruit and juice. We could see a big soccer match outside and some kids on the volleyball court.
We were allowed outside into the recreation area. The metal portable buildings at the back of the soccer field had many children flocked around and there were also 10 other visitors watching the soccer match.
I joined the volleyball match and noticed that many boys had bandaids, black eyes, and slashed arms. A further 20 sat around watching, too depressed to play any sport.
I met 15 boys and found out that, after the riot, all the newly arrived refugees had been banned from using the internet. As a result, none of the new arrivals had talked to case managers, legal aid, or rung their parents in the first week of being at MITA.
None of the new arrivals had phones and all requested that I bring dictionaries when I next visited. The day we visited, someone was due to bring in phones for the boys.
One boy had been waiting four months to have his visa processed and could not because the immigration department could not verify his identity.
Hotham City Mission and Jesuit Refugee Service have been contracted to relocate these boys into community housing. The date for this move is unknown. The federal Labor government announced on October 18 that children would be released from detention and housed in the community, but this has not happened.
To get involved in the campaign to support refugees, visit the Refugee Action Collective website www.rac-vic.org .