[www-features] Proposal: Activists converge at Baxter Refugee Prison in the South Australian desert.
wowi at grepgrrl.org
Sat Apr 2 15:06:36 PST 2005
Finally a Baxter feature..
there are still some audio links to come..
i can add them to the feature when it's ready (must edit ;-)
Title: Activists converge at Baxter Refugee prison in the South
“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
Activists from all around Australia traveled for up to 3 days to
converge in protest of <a
Mandatory Detention Policy</a> for Asylum seekers, at Baxter[<a
detainment centre, north of Port Augusta in the dusty red South
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 <a
for more than 6yrs</a>, with a child being detained for as long as 5 yrs.
Roughly 500 Refugee rights activists and community members met for <a
href=”http://baxter05.info/”>Baxter 05</a>,taking up residency for the
weekend on the hill over looking the camp, 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.
There is great concern for the welfare of asylum seekers in Australia
who are detained, and 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.
During the protest contact was made with the hidden detainees, who had
been in lock down, inside the inner compounds of the complex. A <a
managed to climb on the roof</a> of his demountable to be seen and
cheered by protesters keeping vigil , and chanting azadi in turn with
detainees, at the usually silent Baxter.
make contact across the wire</a>]
Qasim Over 6yrs in Detention</a> | <a
People unlawfully detained</a> | <a
Refugee Accounts</a> | <a href="http://www.baxter05.info/>Baxter 05</a>
to People in Baxter</a> | <a
href=”http://www.baxterwatch.net/”>Baxterwatch</a> | <a
href=http://www.safecom.org.au/detention.htm”>Project Safecom</a> ]
En route to the convergence approximately 200 Sydney and Adelaide
protesters met on Minister for Immigration <a
Amanda Vanstone’s </a> 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
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, <a
damage</a>, illegal balloon and kite flying in a ‘military no fly zone’,
and indecent exposure. The latter of the charger was made on a protester
playing a guitar with his pants 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. His pants had been pulled down by a
younger cousin who then proceeded to engage in similarly scant group
protest in solidarity.
Actions were aimed make contact and show solidarity with people detained
inside to show solidarity and support to detainees. 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
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.
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
Qasim</a> have remained forgotten for over 6 years.
..a personal account from Rights Activist Matt Hamon
Outside the Baxter detention centre late Saturday night at around
midnight advocates were walking back from the centre when whistles and
chanting could be heard coming from three compounds within the centre.
A small group of about 30 refugee advocates rushed to the fence line and
made a coordinated effort to send a loud legible message to our interned
brothers and sisters behind the electric fence and razor wire.
At one point advocates were chanting, “AZADI” (the word FREEDOM in
Farsi) and the asylum seekers were yelling back, “FREEDOM”. It was a
touching moment and a clear dialogue via a still night sky.
The asylum seekers could be clearly heard thanking us and oddly enough
even Australia. The reaction by those present was a mixture of great
sadness and joy. Sadness that here was clear evidence of what our
government was hiding out in the desert, people being detained like
animals and that we were almost powerless to save them from this
unending torture. Joy that we had made contact and hopefully lifted
their spirits and helped maintain their sanity.
Television news crews were present and seemed to be also touched by the
dialogue. After a short time we saw a man on the roof, it was an asylum
seeker thanking us and encouraging us to engage with them. All the while
no-one even touched the fence or made an attempt to rattle the police.
It was a truly emotional experience something that many people will take
away with them and be talking about for a very long time.
For many this was the moment that made it all worth while. There are
humans in this oversized, over policed steel cage and the evidence was
made that more apparent when those present had the opportunity to
express their sorry and sadness of our government’s cruelty.
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