International solidarity for Villawood prisoners



SYDNEY — More than 1000 refugees' rights campaigners joined visitors from more than 20 countries in a march to Villawood refugee prison early on March 31, Easter Sunday. The action, initiated by the 2nd Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference, and organised by the Free the Refugees Campaign (FRC), was in solidarity with simultaneous refugees' rights protests at Woomera and Maribyrnong detention centres.

Armed with placards and banners declaring "Free the refugees. Close all detention centres" and "End mandatory detention now", the noisy protest wound through the streets from Villawood station to the detention centre where they were addressed by Australian Indigenous activist Kim Bullimore; Indonesian trade union leader Dita Sari; Ahmad Reza, an Afghan refugee recently released from Woomera; Keysar Trad from the Lebanese Muslims Welfare Association; and Farooq Tariq, a leader of the Labour Party Pakistan.

Across the razor wire-topped fences separating the detainees from the world, we could see dozens of asylum seekers waving, chanting and holding a large banner saying "Freedom!". Responding to Tariq's announcement that those incarcerated in Villawood included some Pakistanis, the protesters chanted loudly in Urdu "Freedom! Freedom!".

FRC activist Paul Benedek informed the crowd about the events at Woomera that weekend and read a statement of solidarity adopted the previous day at the solidarity conference, which "condemns unequivocally the Australian government's unjust treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, in particular its policy — unique in the world — of mandatorily detaining all asylum seekers".

The statement, which was delivered by FRC members visiting the detainees the next day, stressed: "We stand in solidarity with the detainees throughout Australia who are demanding freedom and respect for their basic human rights to safe haven and a decent life ... We pledge to not only build the movements for refugee rights in our own countries, but also to build international solidarity with peoples everywhere struggling against the repression, poverty and wars that force millions to flee from their homelands."

After tying hundreds of coloured balloons inscribed with the words "Free the refugees!" onto the outer fence of the detention centre, the protesters called loudly to the detainees as they left: "We'll be back".

From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.

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