Refugee rights protesters gathered outside the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) on March 28 to demand the detainees’ freedom. They were also protesting a proposed new law to make it easier to detain and deport non-citizens.
The immigration minister already has the power to detain and deport people they consider a threat to “health and good order”. Activists say any new powers will mean more people will be detained and deported for minor crimes.
The people in MITA have had their visas cancelled, pending deportation. Those who cannot be deported — countries deemed unsafe — are detained indefinitely. They include people who have lived most of their lives here. Most have been convicted of a crime and served a prison sentence. But they are being punished again by being detained or deported.
One such detainee is Joey Tangaloa Taualii, who has lived in Australia for 47 years, and has 12 Australian-born children, one of whom has died.
He told the rally, by phone, about the mental impact of being detained; he said he had seen people attempting suicide. He also spoke about finding broken glass and soap in their meals.
Sam Abrahim, another detainee, said detainees are “losing their minds” and some had been bashed by guards, sometimes with iron bars.
Julian Taylor, another detainee, said he had lived his whole life in Australia, after arriving from England as a child, and has an Australian partner and daughter. As he did not obtain citizenship he is facing deportation. Taylor said the government is using a law and order scare campaign to try and justify its deportations.
Two First Nations activists addressed the rally. Dean said that there are Aboriginal men in MITA, wrongly classified as non-Aboriginal. Larry Dowling said that people should not be locked up because they are refugees, or because poverty led them to steal. He contrasted the treatment of refugees with how traditional Aboriginal societies welcomed outsiders to their land.
Oggy Simic from the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre and Father Bob Maguire also spoke. Maguire said that Australia’s history as a penal colony should make us “allergic to locking up people”.
Green Left spoke to the partner of one of the detainees who said they were “arrested out of nowhere” and thrown into MITA two years ago. “Our lives have been turned upside down since and the thought of having to uproot and be deported to a country where he knows absolutely nobody, has no family, no friends is totally deplorable.”
The son of another detainee told GL that his father had his visa cancelled on “character” grounds, even though he had never committed a crime. He belonged to a motorcycle club. He has an Australian partner and five children, who were traumatised when police burst into the house to take him back to MITA after he had been released.
Moreland councillor Sue Bolton told GL that the rights of people detained under section 501 of the Immigration Act are being trashed. “The federal government hopes that people will believe the lie that this will make the country safe.
“I’m aware that some refugees have been targeted as a result of traffic offences and ended up in MITA. Just because people are sent to prison — perhaps for a minor traffic offence or the non-payment of a fine — does not make them bad people.”