Refugee supporters to defy police ban on car cavalcade

Asylum seekers in the Mantra Hotel in Preston call for support. Photo: Refugee Action Collective/Facebook

The Refugee Action Collective (RAC) in Victoria has vowed to hold a car cavalcade in defiance of a police ban, to demand freedom for detained refugees. The protest is being organised for April 10 at a site close to where about 50 refugees, holed up in a detention hotel, are being denied their right to be safe from COVID-19.

The protest was originally scheduled for April 4, until police threatened to fine individuals $1652 and issue heavy fines to the organisers.

The police claim protesters would violate the emergency laws introduced to combat the spread of COVID-19.

But RAC spokesperson Chris Breen said the cavalcade is a safe way of protesting, as only 2 people would be allowed in each car, and they will have no contact with other protesters.

The action is being supported by Melbourne Activist Legal Support (MALS), which said on April 4 that safely organised public events are seen as “volunteer” work under Clause 8 of the Stay at Home directions.

MALS is concerned about limits being placed on protesters’ rights to free expression and peaceful association, as well as their implied right to political communication under the Constitution.

It said the police response failed to taking into account the safely-organised nature of the event as well as its compassionate nature — to draw attention to a potential health crisis unfolding in the midst of the community.

The car cavalcade aims to highlight the plight of refugees detained in crammed conditions in the Mantra Hotel.

The refugees were taken from Manus Island and Nauru to Melbourne for medical treatment — which they have not received. Now, they face something worse: being infected by the virus because they are confined to a single hotel floor.

More than 1200 doctors have signed a letter calling on the government to release all detained asylum seekers and refugees immediately.

The doctors say that detention is a “very high-risk environment for detainees’ mental and physical health”, adding the transmission of COVID-19 is a “significant risk” in the “relatively crowded conditions”.

RAC is seeking broader support for the protest and is petitioning Premier Daniel Andrews to: release all refugees from detention; provide safe accommodation for refugees in Victoria; use the government’s public health powers to release refugees from detention; and allow safe protest in the form of car and bicycle cavalcades.

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