Students Occupy Immigration Offices

Mariela Powell Thomas

Earlier today, university students and activists lead simultaneous occupations of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection offices in Braddon (Canberra) and Haymarket (Sydney). At 10:00am on Friday the 3rd of November, refugee activists entered and occupied both offices. Their demand? The immediate evacuation of Manus Island refugees to Australia.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon joined the protest at the Sydney office of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, however she was denied access into the building by the various security members standing on guard at the locked doors.

Senator Rhiannon said to media, “I’m joining this peaceful protest today because enough is enough. We cannot continue to stand by as these atrocious human rights abuses are perpetrated in our name. The Australian Government has a duty to ensure the safety and human rights of the people it has kept locked up on Manus Island for up to four years now. I’ve long been a supporter of using peaceful means to protest injustice, and that’s what today’s protests represent. Refugees on Manus Island have for years been engaging in peaceful protest against the injustice of their treatment, and today’s simultaneous actions in Sydney and Canberra, as well as Tuesday’s occupation in Newcastle, aim to amplify their voices and call for their safe evacuation to Australia.”

The student protesters are calling on the Australian government, particularly the Hon Peter Dutton MP and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; demanding it urgently evacuates the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, and brings them to Australia immediately, where their safety can be guaranteed.

These occupations have come in response to recent escalations on the island. As the government gradually removes services, conditions have steadily worsened: the refugees are unable to contact relatives; and exercise facilities, trauma and counselling services have been eliminated. The latest removal of water, food, and power has pushed refugees to dig their own wells.

Spokesperson Daniel Cotton stated, “the situation on Manus island has reached crisis point. Water, food and power are being cut off to hundreds of people. Looming over the camps is the threat of a take-over by PNG paramilitary groups infamous for violence and human rights abuses.

“There is only one solution to this crisis: refugees must be brought to safety in Australia immediately. The fanciful suggestions of third country resettlement have fallen through. The disgraceful proposal that refugees be sent to another gulag on Nauru have been rejected. And refugees are refusing removal to danger elsewhere on Manus Island. Manus is not safe and not equipped to provide support for these refugees. The men on Manus could be brought to Australia with as little effort as a single phone call by Peter Dutton.”

“The Australian Government must take responsibility for the people it has held locked up in detention for years on end. The refugees on Manus Island must be evacuated immediately from the danger and uncertainty they are facing, and brought to Australia where they can live and work in the Australian community” said spokesperson Vanamali Hermans.

An hour and a half into the occupation in the Sydney office, protesters were given a Move On direction by the New South Wales police, who threatened to forcibly remove those who would not comply. Three people, chained together as a visual representation, remained in the middle of the office’s lobby, where they continued to chant “Free, free the refugees!” amongst other rallying calls. These three occupiers were then forcibly removed by the authorities;  two were roughly handled as they were walked past the remaining protestors outside, and forced into the back of a police vehicle. The third occupier was dragged out by five members of the New South Wales police force, who stepped on this person’s hair, ripping out a chunk.

Despite this moment of police brutality, the protestors continued: they marched through the Central tunnel and down Devonshire and Crown Streets, where they gathered at the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP’s office. There, they demanded a stronger Labor position against Australia’s current refugee and asylum seeker policy and the offshore detention centres. A refugee who has been living in Australia since 2008, after spending 4 years in a detention centre, joined the group on the way to Ms Plibersek’s office, where he likened the detention centres on Manus and Nauru islands to concentration camps, full of terror and pain.

If you are outraged by the current news of Manus Island, or the Australian Government’s ongoing treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, reach out to Anti-Islamophobia UTS, an action group mobilising against these violations of human rights.