Rally opposes Christmas Island plan

About 80 people attended a rally called by the Refugee Action Collective on March 2 to protest against the Australian government's plan to reopen the detention centre on Christmas Island and send refugees from Manus Island and Nauru there.

The rally heard Shamindan Kanapadhi, a Tamil refugee on Manus, speak by phone about the conditions there, including inadequate medical care. He said "all of us on Manus are mentally sick," because of the inhumane and humiliating treatment to which they are subject.

Rally co-chair Tara Josem read a message from David Price, the CEO of Christmas Island shire, who said there is no mental health care on the island.

Greens MP Adam Bandt said the plan to send refugees to Christmas Island would effectively overturn parliament's decision to bring sick refugees to Australia for medical treatment. Bandt said the medical evacuation law was a "small step" in the right direction, but it is necessary to dismantle the whole "system of cruelty".

Lisa Fitzpatrick, the state secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, said Christmas Island has very limited medical facilities, with only six hospital beds. Residents of the island have to go to mainland Australia for expert care.

Lavanya Thavaraja, a trade unionist and Tamil activist who was born in a refugee camp in India, spoke of the reasons refugees leave their homelands. They flee from governments that kill and torture people. She gave the example of Sri Lanka, where Tamil areas are under military occupation, and disappearances and torture continue.

Thavarajah called for the closure of all detention centres, and for the people on Manus and Nauru to be brought to Australia.

Pamela Curr, who has visited Christmas Island, spoke of the high security detention centre as a "hellhole". She described isolation cells with a cage attached — the latter supposedly meeting the requirement for prisoners to have some time outside their cell.

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