More than 100 activists and refugee campaigners gathered on March 17 for the first protest held at the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) detention centre in Pinkenba. The protest was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (Queensland).
Originally intended as a centre to house people who had overstayed their visas, due to the overcrowding in other detention centres in Australia BITA now serves as yet another refugee detention centre.
The gathered crowd — a diverse mix of community and activist organisations — heard from several speakers, including Refugee Action Collective’s Paul McKinnon, Andrew Bartlett from the Greens and Ewan Saunders from the Socialist Alliance.
Saunders reminded listeners to keep the refugee issue in mind when placing their votes at the upcoming state election. He said: “I think we need to ask ourselves why the two major parties are playing political football with these people who’ve already suffered enough. With a state election coming up I think it is important to think of who are the parties that are standing up against this injustice and supporting real rights for refugees and an end to mandatory detention.”
A young man named Mahmoud also delivered an emotional speech. For 16 months he had himself been detained as an asylum seeker. Just three weeks ago he had been one of the men behind bars in BITA, one of the men standing not more than 100 metres away from the crowd, waving and cheering as activists chanted. BITA had been Mahmoud’s home for the final five months of his time in detention. He said many of the refugees inside were his friends.
The close proximity of the asylum seekers had a profound effect on all attending the protest. What started out as a few hands waving through the fences soon turned into an assembly of more than twenty asylum seekers, eager to share their experiences with the crowd.
With the assistance of Mahmoud’s translation, the crowd learnt that the average time these men had spent in detention was 20 months. Some people's imprisonment had lasted three years.
Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of South Brisbane Liam Flenady attended the protest and made the following statement on his Facebook page: “Just had a deeply inspiring experience protesting at the BITA detention centre just outside Brisbane. Great to chant in solidarity with the refugees ... These people are being used as political sport to distract the rest of us from issues facing our country, and it's obscene.”