Perth activists converged on the Yongah Hill detention centre on 6 March to protest against the imminent deportation of more than twenty Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka.
Almost 100km outside Perth in a location exemplifying the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”, Yongah Hill incarcerates hundreds of refugees.
Among those issued with deportation notices was Prabu. “If he goes back to Sri Lanka he will be separated from his child”, Sanjeev, a member of the Tamil Refugee Council, told Red Flag. “We cannot allow separated families.”
Prabu has been at Yongah Hill for about a month. He had previously been held at the Christmas Island prison for several years. His child is just five years old. Their story, however, is all too common.
“Hundreds of people don’t have visas, cannot access Medicare, have no work rights, no study rights ... and children born here don’t have any of these rights either”, Sanjeev said. “They’ve lost their lives; they’ve lost ten years in this country”.
This is not the result of bureaucratic oversight. It is the outcome of the federal Labor government’s choice to maintain Operation Sovereign Borders, which denies protection to refugees arriving by boat.
The deportation notices came as Labor voted on 8 March with the Coalition and One Nation against a bill that would have ended the offshore detention of refugees.
Yongah Hill is a huge facility surrounded by towering fences and floodlights.
At the protest, about 70 people marched through boom gates at the entrance and down the facility’s long driveway. Several guards unsuccessfully attempted to block protesters, before half a dozen police officers arrived as reinforcements.
Unfortunately, the protest action was not large enough to stop the deportations. But the refugees could hear us. Between our speeches and chanting, yelling and chanting in response from inside the detention centre could be heard.
We could not see the refugees and they could not see us. But we know our message came through: that there is opposition to what the government is doing to them.
Sending that message was the least we could do.
The Tamil Refugee Council is organising a rally in Perth at Forrest Place, Saturday 11 March 3:00 pm, to demand permanent visas for all refugees.