Why I became an activist for refugee rights

Melbourne Palm Sunday rally for refugees. Photo: Chloe DS

When I first spoke to Hussain six years ago, he was locked up on Manus Island. At the time, I was surprised he had heard of the Adelaide Oval, but as I got to know him, I began to understand his passion for cricket and dream of becoming a professional cricket player, representing Australia.

Cricket Australia had even expressed an interest in Hussain, after a nurse passed on his credentials. But when he told them he was a refugee — detained on Manus Island — their interest evaporated.

I am a Labor voter, but was horrified after adopted the “Malaysia solution” in 2011 — deporting 800 asylum seekers who had arrived by boat, back to Malaysia where they faced the risk of torture.

I became active in the refugee movement after , a 24-year-old refugee, died after becoming septic from a cut on his foot on Manus Island in 2014.

I had expected that his death would end the off-shore detention regime. It didn’t.

I became a regular at protests but wanted to do more. Unsure of the best way to help, I started sending phone credit and gifts to Manus Island. I sent cricket equipment after I found out in 2015 that the asylum seekers loved to play.

Hussain told me they spent hours building a cricket pitch at night to avoid the day’s scorching heat. Due to the heat and humidity, Hussain said he would practice from 6am. They even organised a cricket tournament.

My mother, who had never been politically active, became active in 2017 once whe was aware of the cruelty, including making calls to then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. She also got to know Hussain while he was detained on Manus Island, becoming his second “grandmother”. 

After Hussain became injured, he was flown to Brisbane's Kangaroo Point prison hotel under the now-repealed Medevac law. My mum, now in her late 80s, requested Hussain be transferred to Adelaide, but he was taken to Adelaide Immigration Transit Accommodation (AITA). We had hoped that within a few months he and others would be released into the community. But that did not happen.

Like many others, Hussain had places to stay. He also had support letters from organisations including the Fleurieu Welcome Group, which wanted to help find employment for the 10 people detained in AITA. But again, that did not change anything.

As the refugee rights protests started to grow in Brisbane, Melbourne and Darwin, I helped start the campaign to free the refugees in AITA. I became involved with  and we started organising actions to raise awareness about the cruelty.

As the AITA campaign needed bigger numbers in a short space of time, I reached out to Adelaide Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and Refugee Voices whose members included people with lived experience.

Refugee Voices organised events outside AITA, which attracted some media.  We letterboxed the area to raise awareness about the detention centre and appealed to Port Adelaide Enfield Council to support their release. We wanted to show the council that there is community support for refugees — a tactic that has been successful in Darwin.

Along with many others I was devastated when most people in AITA, including Hussain, were transferred to the Park Hotel Prison in Melbourne on May 5.

I try to stay mindful of the responsibility to continue to protest to demand justice for refugees. I am proud of my mother’s continuing activism. She has asked Home Affairs why, if Hussain has community support and we can be a substitute family, he could not be released instead of being transferred to another detention centre. She told the department the policy was cruel and pointed out that, as she finds it hard to travel, if he was in Adelaide, she could be driven there to visit him.

It makes no sense: why doesn’t the government just release these 10 people into the community?

The next protest on July 19 will mark eight years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that people seeking asylum, arriving by boat, will never be settled in Australia and would be processed offshore. We need to make this protest big.

[*Devron Brock is a pseudonym. This nurse and refugee rights activist lives in Adelaide.]