Protesters say 'Free the 501s'

July 1, 2016

About 200 people rallied on June 26 demanding people charged under section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 be freed and allowed to stay in Australia.

More than 190 people, mostly New Zealanders, have been ripped away from their families and put in prison on Christmas Island, 380 kilometres south of Java and 2650 kilometres north-west of Perth, pending deportation. The numbers are set to increase.

Under the Act, the previous John Howard government deported many people after they had done jail time, mainly for minor crimes. Some of these people had left their birth countries as babies, had lived their whole lives in Australia, had no connection with their birth country and sometimes had serious mental illnesses. Some ended up homeless after being deported.

Last year, the government made this section of the act even more draconian. Now you do not need to have committed a crime to be deported. If the minister considers you are of bad character, you can be ripped away from your family and stuck in detention awaiting deportation.

Green Left Weekly spoke to a woman at the protest who was holding a placard with a man's name on it. It was the name of her father, who had left New Zealand with his family when he was four years old. He had lived in Australia for 60 years and was now in detention on Christmas Island, waiting to be deported. His children and grandchildren have grown up in Australia. This is their home.

One of the organisers of the protest told Green Left Weekly that the demonising of people imprisoned under s 501 was similar to the demonising of refugees, Muslims and bikies.

She said: "Treatment of our people awaiting deportation is inhumane, unjustified and undignified since the introduction of s 501 in the Migration Act."

These deportations are symptomatic of the general loss of our democratic rights in Australia. But these New Zealanders and their supporters are getting organised to fight for their rights.

[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland City Council.]

Photos by Ali Bakhtiarvandi

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