About 120 refugee rights activists from multiple Australian cities gathered outside the Northern Territory’s parliament house in Darwin today to protest against mandatory detention and the three detention centres located around the region.
The event kicked off protests that are taking place at the detention facilities over the Easter long weekend for the annual refugee convergence. Each year refugee activists gather at a place in Australia where refugees are held in remote or difficult-to-reach location.
The rally took place after Serco staff and representatives from the immigration department banned visiting refugee advocates from seeing refugees inside the Wickham Point detention centre, a new super-centre an hour’s drive outside Darwin.
About 14 representatives from DIAC, NT police, Australian Federal Police, the Airport Corporation and Serco also met with convergence organisers on April 5 to “negotiate” the events of the weekend.
At the rally today, protest goers picked out shady areas to hear Larrakia Aboriginal owner June Mills give a welcome to country.
“Our welcome is an inclusive process,” she said. “It’s not exclusive. It’s good for your spirit, for your settlement.
“They’re on our land now, and we want them to feel embraces and settled. Children should be running on our beaches. And we should be taking them out for bush tucker.
“That’s the Larrakia welcome.”
The rally then formed a colourful and noisy line to march past the offices of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) and ended at a local church.
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VIDEO: Marcus Hampston from Refugee Rights Action Network, Western Australia, spoke outside the DIAC offices.
Hazara refugee Hadi Hosseini told the crowd he had been detained in Darwin before getting his protection visa. After living in Sydney, he decided to return to Darwin to “find the people who helped me and thank them”.
He said lots of attention was given to the 14-year-old Australian boy detained in Indonesia for buying pot, but people ignored the thousands of children that have been locked up under mandatory detention.
After the rally, 50 people attended a planning meeting to discuss and organise the rest of the week. On April 7, the convergence will protest outside the Northern Immigration Detention Centre, a high security facility inside a defence barracks.
In the afternoon, activists will head to the Darwin Airport Lodge to protest against children being locked up in detention. Under the banner “No Child Should be Detained,” activists plan to send in a delegation with toys, books and materials for the children and families held there.
On Sunday, April 8, interstate and Darwin activists will travel to the new Wickham Point detention centre. Many new arrivals are being taken to the centre. It is designed to hold 1500 asylum seekers when completed.
The area is in marshy swampland and conditions have been described as “unbearable” due to its severe insect infestation.
The final day of the convergence will include a protest against the NT intervention, organised by the Aboriginal Rights Coalition.
Photos from the April 6 rally by Alex Bainbridge