Free the refugees!

February 13, 2002


MELBOURNE — On February 8, several young people crowded into a temporary detention center were watched by police as they chanted and waved placards. This was not the refugee detention centre at Maribyrnong, however, but outside the busy Flinders Street Station. The students were protesters, who had walked out of school to attend a Resistance-organised protest calling for an end to mandatory detention.

Fifty students, including myself, attended the protest, although many were prevented by a snap train strike affecting the eastern suburbs. We handed out leaflets and fluorescent stickers emblazoned "Free the refugees! Close the camps!" to passers-by, many of whom were visibly shocked by the wire cage.

Resistance member Tim Doughney condemned the conditions that refugees are kept in over a megaphone: "These are men, women and children — no different to you or me. Every night they have guards shine torches into their faces, on the hour, every hour. The refugees are being treated worse than criminals. They're treated like animals!"

Despite the police telling us not to march, and collecting names and addresses from participants, the crowd moved confidently and resolutely out into Swanston Street — the "detention centre" held out in front.

The protest occupied the intersection of Swanston and Bourke streets, and then wound up outside the immigration department with cries of "Howard is a racist".

High school students may not be able to vote, but we still have a voice. We just have to come out on the street and have the courage to be heard.

[Jess Melvin is a member of the socialist youth group Resistance.]

From Green Left Weekly, February 13, 2002.
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