BY KERRY RIDGEWAY
SYDNEY — In the week that marked the 50th anniversary of the UN refugee convention, human rights activists in Sydney and Melbourne mobilised to oppose the government's policy of forcible detention for all onshore asylum seekers.
Two hundred protesters marched on John Howard's Sydney residence, Kirribilli House, on July 29.
The demonstration, organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC), was buoyed by residents who joined the vibrant procession, while others cheered from their balconies.
Many protesters were outraged by the recent suicide of an African man who was detained in Villawood over minor visa irregularities. Protesters were also shocked that a detainee in Woomera had been placed in solitary confinement after attempting suicide by setting fire to himself.
"The Howard government may as well have put the noose around [the suiciding detainee's] neck", Free the Refugees Campaign's Paul Benedek told the rally.
"The Howard government supports the deadly extinguishing of human rights. They're the ones who should be put behind bars."
Protesters also saluted the 46 detainees who recently escaped from Villawood detention centre and offered support to any others who manage to escape.
"We're willing to provide a safe haven for refugees despite the law", Benedek continued. "Why? Because when injustice is law, resistance is duty. The law of mandatory detention is arbitrary and inhumane. The law is wrong."
After a one-minute silence to commemorate the death of the detainee, the protest ended by burning Philip Ruddock's effigy.
Tony Iltis reports from Melbourne that in the largest political demonstration held in Melbourne's western suburbs for several years, 150 protesters marched through Footscray on July 28.
Organised by the local chapter of the Refugee Action Collective (RAC-West), the rally demanded the closure of all detention centres, focusing on the nearby centre at Maribyrnong.
Rally-goers were told that RAC-West will relaunch a regular Sunday vigil outside the Maribyrnong detention centre from August 26.
In a strong show of solidarity, all the demonstrators raised their hands to pledge that they would defy Ruddock's draconian threats and shelter any refugee fleeing Maribyrnong. Footscray is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Australia and there was a good deal of interest and support from shoppers and passers-by.
The demonstration also heard from a representative of RAC-Victoria about its campaign to defend asylum-seeker Ali Bakhtiarvandi, an Iranian refugee currently locked up in Maribyrnong Detention Centre.
Before being transferred to Maribyrnong, Bakhtiarvandi was involved in a peaceful strike about wages and working conditions in Port Hedland detention centre. Prior to the strike, detainees were paid just $6 for a day's work. A phone card costs $7 in the detention centres — and management are also allowed to sell donated clothes and presents.
The strike raised wages to $10 a day, but when the refugees took further action Bakhtiarvandi and others were transferred.
Bakhtiarvandi will go to the Federal Court in an attempt to win refugee status on Auguts 28. RAC-Victoria is organising a rally at 10am that day outside the Federal Court to show support.