Emotional refugee rights protest marks Tampa scandal

Refugee rights protests rallied outside Perth Immigration Detention Centre on August 27. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Marking the 10th anniversary of the Tampa scandal, when the former John Howard government refused to allow the MV Tampa to dock in Australia after it had rescued asylum seekers at sea, close to 100 refugee rights activists converged on the Perth detention centre outside the domestic airport on August 27.

The rally, which was organised by the , called for the end of mandatory detention and for the rejection of the federal government's plans to export asylum seekers as part of the so-called Malaysian Solution.

The protesters also sought also to draw attention to the compound itself, the existence of which is unknown to most Perth residents.

As they marched around the perimeter wall, the activists were able to make visible and verbal contact with the men detained inside. This was despite the best efforts of the Serco guards within to use their bodies to block the view and drown out the protest with loud music.

Many of the men detained inside became clearly emotional as the crowd expressed messages of solidarity and support, some holding up photos of loved ones and joining in the chants calling for freedom and the end of their imprisonment and torture at the hands of Serco and the Australian government.

Serco guards went as far as demanding from a two year old girl in the crowd that she not try to speak to the detainees, many of whom are fathers of children they have not seen in months.

Supporters heard how one man inside had attempted suicide more than 20 times since arriving in detention. Another 25-year-old detainee had recently suffered a heart attack, said to be due to the anguish and abuse inherent to the system of mandatory detention and the threat of deportation to Malaysia.

For many, the Tampa marked a significant point in the Australian government agenda to vilify asylum seekers arriving to Australia by boat.

Ten years on, the inhumane ideals of the Howard and the Liberals begin enforced by the Gillard ALP government, which maintains a refugee detention system several psychiatrists and health exports have openly called “mental illness factories”.