Detained refugees: ‘Supporters give us hope’

Refugees protest at a Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane on April 17. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

More than 300 people attended an online meeting on May 4 to discuss how to free detained refugees and defend the right to protest. It was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) and supported by groups in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

Moz, a detainee in the Mantra Hotel in Preston in Melbourne, said he had been held on Manus Island for six and a half years, before being brought to Australia for medical treatment. He has not received proper medical care, and is now confined to his room for 23 hours a day.

Farhad Rahmati, who spoke from detention at Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, said 100 refugees were being detained by a similar number of guards. Social distancing is impossible. Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton is failing in his duty to protect the health of the refugees, he said.

The detainees protest every day at 5pm, while supporters gather outside, maintaining safe distancing. Supporters “give us hope to resist a cruel system”, he said.

Lawyer Julian Burnside spoke about the terrible effects of detention, and said an 11 year old girl had tried to hang herself. He pointed to the government’s inconsistent COVID-19 rules such as limiting weddings to 5 people while refugees are confined with many others. Remember that refugees are “human beings like us”, he said.

RAC member Chris Breen, who was arrested before a car cavalcade on April 10 in solidarity with 65 refugees detained in the Mantra Hotel, said 29 people had each been fined $1652. Breen, who was held in a police cell for 9 hours, has been charged with “incitement”.

Breen said the car convoy was safe, whereas detention centres are not. He described his detention as “very unpleasant”, noting that many refugees have been locked up for 7 years.

The charge of incitement sets a “worrying precedent”, Breen said and he called on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to use the state’s health laws to free the refugees from unsafe detention.

[RAC is organising on May 9.]