Refugee protests in Austraia

Kim Bullimore k_bullimore at
Thu Jan 2 00:47:40 MST 2003

Refugees being detained in 4 detention centres across Australia staged
protests leading up to and on  New Year's eve, lighting fires (the protests
started on Dec 30).  The first protest, I understand was at the new
detention centre at Baxter (Port Augusta, South Australia) and was in
response to an Iranian man and his three children being locked up in
isolation for an extended period of time.

Fires/protests also took place in Woomera (South Australia), Port Hedland
(Western Australia), Villawood (Sydney, NSW) and Christmas Island (of the
North West coast of Australia - an area which has been "excised" from
Australia's migration zone by the Liberal government with the support of the
Labor opposition).

A snap solidarity action  was organised late yesterday afternoon/evening
(New Year's Day) outside the Villawood detention centre.  About 50 -60
people attended, including members of the Free the Refugees Campaign,
Refugee Action Collective, Socialist Alliance and others.  A number of
people in the local neighbourhood saw the "live feed" on the evening news
and also came down to join the solidarity action.

We could see and hear the refugees who echoed our chants of  "freedom"  and
"hey, hey, ho, ho, Philip Ruddock has to go" (Ruddock is the Federal
government Immigration Minister).   Villawood, was once a processing centre
for refugees and migrants. In the 1970s there was open accommodation for
families and others.  Refugees could come and go freely while waiting for
their applications to be accessed and processed.

Today the centre has three sets of barbed wire fences as well as sets of
steel fencing and electric fences.  Over the last year, the government has
extended the perimeter - you use to be able to walk down closer (about 150
meters) but this area has been blocked off, with a new outside perimeter
fence being erected.  The area between the first two perimeter fences is now
barren and is a bit of a "no man's land".

Vistors to Villawood are often stopped from taking simple things to the
refugees. One woman at the solidarity action yesterday  told us that she had
been stopped last week from taking fresh mint (!!)  into the detention
centre to give to detainees

Attorney General Daryl Williams has condemed refugee advocates for
supporting the refugees

Further solidarity actions are being organised.

Some of the media and the government are playing up the "terrorist" or
"criminal" card in relation to the protests - some of the television media
in particular has been describing the fires as "arson attacks" or
"firebombings".  A number of the refugees have been removed from the
Villawood detention camp and taken to Silverwater Prison according to the
latest media reports.

Below is the two reports from the Sydney Morning Herald on the refugee

Kim B

Villawood detention centre torched
By Michael Pelly and Michael Bradley
January 1 2003, Sydney Morning Herald

Detainees set fire to a building at Villawood last night,continuing the
string of deliberately lit blazes at detention
centres around Australia.

Firefighters said rioting inmates hampered their efforts tocontrol the
blaze, which started about 11pm. There was also an attempt by two inmates to
break out of the centre by ramming the gates in cars belonging to the
detention centre. A  demountable aluminium building was destroyed, but there
were no reported injuries and it is believed all detainees were accounted

An inmate who called the Herald denied the fires at the centres were
connected. "This was not a riot, this was a statement. It's been on the
cards for a long time. We can't live in these conditions."

But a fire brigade spokeswoman said they were "having a lot of trouble with
security at the site" and that 10 fire crews were at the scene.

The fire is the latest in a string of detention centre blazes which have
caused $8 million damage.

The Federal Government is stepping up diplomatic pressure to repatriate
asylum seekers to their countries of origin after the arson attacks, which
have now damaged five detention centres.

Only hours after the Prime Minister, John Howard, dismissed claims of a
crisis, the detention centre at Christmas Island was on fire yesterday.

Detainees armed with pipes took over a compound, the Immigration Department

The fire gutted the dining room and inmates set fire to their tents then
brandished tent poles at their guards, the
department said. It said a stand-off between about 25 inmates and detention
staff continued into the night.

Earlier yesterday, flames raced through the Woomera detention centre,
causing $2.5 million damage as inmates
pelted firefighters with stones and menaced them with iron bars, it said.

The latest mayhem follows two fires on successive days which destroyed
compounds at the Baxter centre near Port Augusta and Port Hedland in Western
Australia. The damage bill for the mainland centres has been put at $8

Detainees held in jail as fires investigated
January 2 2003, Sydney Morning Herald

A group of 15 inmates from Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre is being held
in a maximum security jail while fires, a riot and an attempted escape are

The Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA)
said yesterday it had identified 20 men believed involved in the New Year's
Eve unrest that caused $500,000 in damage.

A fire lit about 10.30pm on Tuesday destroyed an accommodation block used to
house people regarded as security risks and damaged several other

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