Pro-refugee activists step up campaign



MELBOURNE — As the dust begins to settle on the March 28-April 1 Woomera protest, activists have hit the ground running with a "defence campaign" for those arrested during the weekend and re-invigorated campaigning for an end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

The campaign began with a protest outside Maribyrnong detention centre on April 7, which also drew attention to a hunger strike by nine local detainees, begun on April 2. Six of the hunger-strikers have already been declared refugees by the immigration department, but remain imprisoned for up to seven months while they wait for "security clearances".

The protest also highlighted the need for solidarity with refugees and activists targeted after the Woomera actions. Victoria's Refugee Action Collective (RAC) has donated $1000 to be used to aid escaped refugees — clearly defying draconian laws, which punish assisting escaped detainees with up to four years in prison.

Commenting on the surge of interest in a "sanctuary network" for escaped refugees, RAC activist Judy McVey told Green Left Weekly, "there are thousands of people willing to break the law to bring an end to mandatory detention. Many refugees are USELESS WORD?: effectively condemned to indefinite detention by the government's inhuman policy. That is the real crime."

Federal immigration minister Philip Ruddock has stated that given evidence of a "wider conspiracy" to harbour and protect escaped refugees, charges could be brought against pro-refugee activists for "conspiracy to defeat Commonwealth law" with a maximum penalty of 10-years imprisonment. Several Woomera demonstrators have been charged with aiding and abetting an escapee.

RAC activist Felicity Martin told GLW that, despite government threats, the sanctuary network campaign will be stepped up. "There are currently 8061 people living on temporary protection visas", Martin said. "Some of these expire in October. The obvious question is, will we simply let these people be deported?"

Immediate campaign plans include holding public meetings and producing information sheets to both publicise what really happened at Woomera and why mandatory detention of asylum seekers needs to be abolished. RAC is also holding a teach-in on April 27, supporting a Mayday blockade of immigration department offices, and a national day of action for refugee-rights in June.

From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.
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