Government reinitiates deportations to offshore camps

Issue 
The government is forcibly removing asylum seekers to detention.

In the dead of night on July 26, a young Sudanese man, whom we will call “Walleed”, was forcibly removed by police from a van.

Video footage shows a dozen protestors shouting “We love you” and “We will not let you be forgotten” as he is dragged into Melbourne airport. Refugee activists had surrounded the van and blocked it from entering the airport for a few hours before police moved in.

Walleed has spent the past three years in immigration detention after fleeing Sudan. He had been transferred to Australia to receive medical treatment for an assault he suffered in the 2013 riots at Manus Island detention centre, where Reza Berati was murdered.

Walleed's lawyer, Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre, said he was given no notice or rationale for Walleed's deportation. Lawyers are supposed to be given 72 hour's notice before asylum seekers are deported to Nauru.

Webb said he is likely to be moved to Christmas Island with the intention of then moving him to an offshore detention centre such as Manus Island or Nauru. Christmas Island is Australian territory, so they do not have to give notification.

It is unlikely that the immigration department would transfer him to Manus Island after the PNG Supreme Court ruled in April that detaining asylum seekers in PNG is in breach of the country's constitution.

The Manus Island detention centre is still operating and no refugees or asylum seekers have been transferred out. A second PNG Supreme Court ruling was expected to be delivered on August 2 to issue directives on the implementation of the April 26 decision.

Walleed is the first asylum seeker to be deported who was part of the High Court case in February that ruled in favour of the government having the power to transfer asylum seekers to offshore detention centres.

The High Court's decision sparked the #LetThemStay movement, where thousands of people came out in support of the 267 refugees set to be transferred, culminating in the vigil and actions of health professionals at the Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane that stopped the deportation of baby Asha.

Since then a number of people, including baby Asha, have been moved into community detention, where they do not have the right to work and often struggle to feed and clothe themselves.

During the federal election the refugee issue was rarely mentioned. But now that the election is over, the government may have decided to start deportations again. This is despite recent polls, such as one conducted by the Australian Institute, finding that a majority of Australians believe refugees should be settled in Australia.

In a post-election climate — where Pauline Hanson and her far-right racist rhetoric is given a platform and the Coalition government and its right wing allies are stepping up attacks on welfare and trying to introduce more anti-terror laws — refugee scapegoating could be back on the agenda.

Many refugees in Australia now live in fear of being transferred to offshore detention via Christmas Island. As refugee rights activist groups prepare for more anti-deportation actions, most groups have emergency SMS alert lists you can join.

These anti-deportation actions include Jasmine Pilbrow's decision to board a Qantas plane last year to stop it deporting a Tamil asylum seeker. She stood up to stop it taking off until the Tamil man was taken off the plane. The protest and subsequent court actions connected more people to the campaign.

Deportations are an integral part of the detention system. Ultimately the only way to stop deportations is to end the detention system. Actions, such as the Lady Cilento vigil, show how political pressure can be built to stop deportations and how anti-deportation actions can draw people into the campaign.

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