Refugees in the Kangaroo Point detention centre are making a passionate cry for freedom. And their supporters outside are giving them hope, gathering week in and out to demand their release.
Almost 120 refugees are being held in a makeshift detention centre in a Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane.
But, as refugee Abed Alsalahi told Green Left, a hotel is like “five star, four star ... but this one is zero star — it’s a jail!”
Alsalahi has called federal immigration minister David Coleman’s office a few times, and the Serco prison guards have asked him to stop. But he cannot stop “until I have freedom”, he said.
The refugees in Kangaroo Point have suffered seven years of slow torture since arriving in Australia in 2013.
They were all sent to Manus Island or Nauru (while others, who arrived on exactly the same boats, were sent to Australia on bridging visas). They were all brought to Australia for medical care under the Medevac legislation, however they have largely been denied treatment. They all passed security checks and most have been found to be refugees. But, they have still be been denied their freedom.
“We are tired, we are not happy, we are not sleeping, we are sad,” Alsalahi said. Seven years is a long time to be imprisoned, with no end date in sight. The refugees “need to go outside”, he said.
Three months ago, the refugees started taking their protest to their balconies and their cause was quickly taken up a growing group of supporters.
What began as ad hoc solidarity actions turned into weekly “exercise for refugees” actions. Now, a permanent blockade of the site has been established to prevent forced transfers.
Over the past two weeks, huge weekend rallies are showing widespread community support for their release into the community.
Abdulla Moradi told GL that “we were disappointed” but that the protesters outside have lifted their spirits. “They give us energy, they give us new life,” he said. “This protest is gonna give us hope.”
Moradi used to take medication for “sleeping and relaxing”. However, since the protests have grown outside he stopped. “My feelings changed, because I saw a lot of Australian people around us, supporting us.”
Moradi also spoke about other refugees who are now visibly happy — “a smile has come to their lips” — after being sad for a long time. “Life is changed,” he said.
But some things haven’t changed.
Serco guards and Border Force are still trying to intimidate refugees. Reports are taken of which refugees join the protest. They stare this down every single time they stand on the balconies.
Insultingly, Serco guards still deliberately refer to refugees by their room numbers, not their names.
Moradi said that on Manus and Nauru, “they never used [our] name — they called [our] boat number”.
“Here, they call us by room number.”
“When we go to take food, they ask ‘What’s your room number’? When I get some dinner, they say, ‘What’s your room number?’”
“How come they [never] use names?” Moradi asked. “They never respect us as humans!”
Moradi never planned to come to Australia. In Iran, he had a good job, a good house and a good car. But he was persecuted when he converted from Islam to Christianity. It never occurred to him that he would be forced to leave his country.
Moradi said he wants to talk to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. “He knows we are not criminals, he knows everything about us,” he said, referring to the seven long years that these refugees have been waiting for asylum. They have been closely monitored all of that time, he said. “They are checking all social media we use; they check everything.”
“They know who I am.”.
Alsalahi is very grateful to everyone who shows up. “Thank so much for every single person who joined the protests,” he said.
But, to force any change of government policy, more people must pile on the pressure.
Moradi has a message for the government: “We are human, like you. Please let us free!”