After weeks of protests inside and outside the hotel-prisons and detention centres, the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane has emerged as the immediate focal point for the campaign to free the refugees in Australia.
World Refugee Day is celebrated each year on 20 June. This year, 20 June also marked 80 days of protest by refugees being held at the Kangaroo Point hotel-prison on one of Brisbane’s main roads.
Each afternoon the refugees hang their banners, made of black garbage bags taped together, off the balcony of the hotel.
The white-paper lettering is easily readable from the road and reads, “NO CRIME 7 YEARS IN DETENTION,” and “WHERE IS THE JUSTICE.”
On 11 June, Border Force and Serco guards tried to move Iranian refugee Farhad Rahmati from Kangaroo Point hotel to the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation (BITA) detention centre. Alerted by Farhad, scores of people turned out that night to stop the van carrying Farhad, preventing him from being moved that night.
Early the next morning, however, with more police, Serco guards managed to move Farhad into BITA’s high security compound.
Since then hundreds of people have surrounded the hotel 24/7. Sometimes strong enough to maintain a blockade, stopping vans, checking for refugees; sometimes a vigil keeping watch on the gates.
Farhad had been central to the protests being organised inside Kangaroo Point, and was a key media contact.
Four other detainees had been moved the day before Farhad, as part of the government’s attempt to stop refugees accessing the balcony that has given them such a platform for their protests and connecting with supporters on the outside.
As Farhad told a Refugee Action Coalition Zoom meeting after being transferred to BITA, “I was not surprised they moved me. It is a tactic we know well from Manus.”
Farhad Bandesh, a leader of the protests inside Melbourne’s Mantra Hotel was moved from the hotel to Melbourne’s detention centre on 23 April, for the same reasons.
On 13 June, as part of a “Free the refugees” national day of action, hundreds of protesters gathered at Kangaroo Point.
Hundreds more rallied at eight socially-distanced protests targeting the Mantra Hotel and MITA detention centre in Melbourne. And in Sydney 150 protestors defied a court order prohibiting a rally, and police harassment, to march through the city from Town Hall to the Immigration department.
‘Let him hug his son’
Late in the afternoon, the crowd outside Kangaroo Point surged at the fences calling, “Let him hug his son,” referring to Saif Ali who has been held in the hotel for a year.
Saif’s wife and son are living in community detention in Brisbane, and were with the protesters, but visits have been banned for weeks because of the COVID-19 risk.
The Kangaroo Point protest has focused a lot of attention on the dreadful situation of refugees in onshore detention.
The stand-off has also drawn a huge amount of media attention. The Acting Minister for Immigration, Alan Tudge, went on ABC radio to tell a bunch of lies, including that the Medevac legislation requires transferred refugees to be held in detention facilities. The same radio station interviewed Farhad from inside the Brisbane detention centre the following day.
Like the blockade of Lady Cilento Hospital in 2016 that prevented baby Asha and her parents being returned to Nauru, the hotel protest is attracting support from Brisbane unions.
The ETU Youth Crew called for union members to bring flags and “wear your ETU shirts” to the rally on 21 June. The Queensland Council of Unions also promoted the rally.
Hayden Vandekruk spoke to the 1000-strong 21 June rally, “As far as the ETU youth crew is concerned, an injury to one is an injury to all, and we will proudly stand in support of these people whose only crime is seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
“We are here to send the message that human rights are union business, and will always be union business. We will continue to support these people until they are free.”
The government would like to snuff out the protests, but the blockade is continuing and refugee supporters will rally again at Kangaroo Point on Sunday 28 June.
Melbourne has called a rally for Sunday 19 July, to mark the seventh anniversary of offshore detention—seven years too long.
By Ian Rintoul