500 Protest at Baxter Refugee Prison in the South Australian desert
04 Apr 2005 02:14 GMT
"Hundreds of ordinary Australians have trekked across the continent to show their solidarity with those inside and their opposition to the detention centres. In the true Easter spirit they sacrificed their holidays and braved police violence to try and help the wretched people behind the razor wire," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
Activists from all around Australia traveled for up to 3 days to converge in protest of Australia’s Mandatory Detention Policy for Asylum seekers, at Baxter [1|2] Refugee detainment centre, north of Port Augusta in the dusty red South Australian desert.
There are currently 913 people in mainland detention centres, in Australia. With 53 children still in detention, in Australia and offshore on Nauru. Refugees have been detained for more than 6yrs, with a child being detained for as long as 5 yrs.
Roughly 500 Refugee rights activists and community members met for Baxter 05,taking up residency for the weekend on the hill over looking the faccility, whilst Refugee rights activists staged solidarity protesters across the country, at Perth Detention Centre and Maribyrnong Detention Centre, west of Melbourne.
Protesters walked repeatedly to the Baxter centre,3.5 kms away, to make themselves heard to the public and the detainees. What was for all intentions to be a passive protest was met with excessive police force of 400 officers, and resulted in a number of clashes.
During the protest contact was made with the hidden detainees, who had been in lock down, inside the inner compounds of the complex. A detainee managed to climb on the roof of his demountable to be seen and cheered by protesters keeping vigil, and chanting azadi in turn with detainees, at the usually silent Baxter.
Audio: [Detainees make contact across the wire|Eyewitness Account]
Selected Photos: [1| 2] [ Peter Qasim Over 6yrs in Detention | 33 People unlawfully detained | Inside the detention centres | Refugee Accounts | Baxter 05 | Write to People in Baxter | Baxterwatch | Project Safecom ]
There are currently 913 people in mainland detention centres, in Australia. 704 men, 131 women and 34 children. With 19 children still detained offshore, on Nauru. Refugees have been detained for more than 6yrs, with a child being detained for as long as 5 yrs.
There is great concern for the welfare of asylum seekers in Australia who are detained, particularly long term detainees, who are left unsure in sterile conditions. 85% of people in detention are reported to have chronic depressive symptoms, with 65% of people in detention have ongoing suicidal thoughts. It is not uncommon for detainees to physically hurt themselves, and Refugee advocacy groups find access limited, so have difficulty monitoring and aiding Refugees in need.
The protest began in North Adelaide, en route to the convergence, when approximately 200 Sydney and Adelaide protesters met on Minister for Immigration Senator Amanda Vanstone’s front lawn to loudly protest the Liberal Government’s policies. There were roughly 50 police along the street, at her residence and next door. One protester was arrested for having 7 cans of spray paint in his backpack.
At Baxter, protesters walked repeatedly to the centre,3.5 kms away from camp, to make themselves heard to the public and the detainees. What was for all intentions to be a passive protest was met with excessive police force of 400 officers, and resulted in a number of clashes.
There were 16 arrests in total for the weekend, comparatively less than the 33 arrests from the previous Baxter convergence in 2003. The arrests were made for charges ranging from trespass, property damage, illegal balloon and kite flying in a ‘military no fly zone’, and indecent exposure. The latter of the charges was made on a protester playing a guitar after his pants had been pulled down, in the middle of the night at an all night vigil by Perth activists at the centre’s gates, to a line of police and 10 other protesters. There were resulting solidarity actions.
Actions were aimed to make contact and show support and solidarity with people detained inside. Protesters made as much noise as possible to reach friends being held in Baxter, and released balloons saying ‘freedom’ in the hopes that they would be seen overhead. Text messages, such as ‘freedom freedom freedom....’ from detainees, via mobile telephones smuggled into the centre were small triumphs.
Protesters were only too aware of the media, whose presence felt ubiquitous. Much of the weekend was spent making sure that Baxter would be seen by Australia and the world, with a number of theatrical and symbolic acts staged outside the detention gates. In one instance 5 protesters ceremoniously washed Australian flags and then pegged them onto a washing line, at the centre’s gates. A symbolic cleansing of the nations’ shame; the festering dirt of Australia’s deplorable human rights record. Another stunt involved 50 protesters standing en face with police lines and reciting a modified version of the police act ‘to serve and protect’.
The police were excessive, breaking a man’s wrist in 2 places whilst using ‘reasonable force’ to arrest him during the Saturday’s actions. Police later lied to media claiming it to be’soft tissue damage’ when they had been present at the x-ray and it’s result. On the same day a woman had been hospitalised with concussion after the crowd had been charged with 10 police horses.
The final day of the protest served illuminate state fear and an incredible pettiness in an attempt to seemingly maintain power and control. Protesters had a final action with a large bunch of balloons attached to a banner depicting the slogan ‘freedom, close Baxter’, and numerous scripts ‘freedom’, with the aim to float the banner over the centre in view of detainees.They were met by a line of police who had been guarding the perimeter for the duration of the weekend and then proceeded to engage in a stand off, similar to that of the previous day. Protesters were threatened with arrest, whilst the highly trained ‘star force’ special police in full riot gear rushed forward from behind police lines to pop balloons! This embarrassing display simply served as a subversion of power.. the police successfully made themselves questionable on corporate media to the latent populous.
On a whole the protest was vibrant and community orientated.. with children and older people present throughout. There were even members of the Australian Nursing Union present, reminding protesters to be vigilant about fluid intake in the searing South Australian heat.
The weekend finished in nearby Port Augusta with a community rally showing support of local Indigenous peoples encountering racism and police brutality. The protest tied fittingly the struggle of Australian Indigenous peoples in the search of freedom and land rights, with the struggle of refugees, also encountering what are described as 'racist policies'.
With the overwhelming media attention, and fleeting contact with detainees, the weekend was a success. The media spectacle had stolen public attention; all eyes were for once on Baxter, where detainees like Peter Qasim have remained forgotten for over 6 years.