Asylum-seekers break out of Darwin detention centre to stage peaceful protest

Posted by admin on Sep 1st, 2010

The Australian, September 01, 2010 11:31AM

Video here

POLICE are searching a group of Afghan asylum-seekers who broke out of Darwin detention centre to stage a protest as they fear they may be carrying weapons. Dozens of Afghan asylum seekers who say their refugee claims were recently rejected broke out of the facility early this morning and are protesting beside the Stuart Highway. Police are at the scene trying to convince the men, engaged in what authorities are calling a peaceful protest, to return to the centre. “Some of you may have weapons – we do not know,” a police negotiator said.

“This is a police matter, not an inside (detention centre) matter,” the negotiator added, with the help of a translator.

He added: “Thank you for the way you are behaving and remaining peaceful.”

Some of the men appeared to want pass notes to the media but their request was refused.

As temperatures hit the mid 30s, the men took turns to hold up the eight banners they brought with them over the perimeter fence.

Many of the men have towels and appear to have a little water, but it is understood that they are fasting for the holy month of Ramadan.

One of the men said he feared he would be killed if he returned to Afghanistan.

“If Afghanistan is safe what are the Australian soldiers doing there?

“What are the Americans doing there?” he said.

“Our children are not allowed to go to school. If I go back they cut my head. I don’t know about my family.

“We seek protection not detention. We’re not criminals.”

Reports have put the number of detainees who breached the perimeter fence at 92 and police have cordoned off part of the Stuart Highway and are negotiating with the group.

One of the men, Hussaine Ali, said he was protesting to raise awareness of his people’s plight.

“We are not criminals. We are innocent,” Mr Ali told The Australian.

“Australia is known by its humanity. Don’t discriminate refugees.”

Mr Ali brandished a letter, saying he had been threatened by the Taliban.

He handed a photocopy of the letter, which appeared to be translated, said:

“You in the servant of Islam warned that we to stop working with the disbelievers. We always know what time are you doing (sic). If you continue to as an enemy of Islam.”

One of the police negotiators said he would allow some of the members of the group to address the media but asked the rest of the group to go back inside.

“I know you people have come a long way and endured a lot of hardship an you do want to get on with your lives,” he said.

The breakout follows two days of riots inside the immigration detention centre and on Sunday Indonesian protesters set mattresses, rubbish and paper alight and climbed the roofs in an all-day protest.

More than 100 detainees continued rooftop and ground protests on Monday before order was restored on yesterday.

The Immigration Department has confirmed the breakout.

Department of Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan told Sky News the group looked to consist of around 60 or 70 detainees and were “holding signs about their ongoing detention”.

“I think the only concern, without being flippant, the only concern at this stage is the traffic. They’re on the road and holding the early morning rush hour traffic as it were here in Darwin. So, that’s really the only concern at the moment,” he said.

Mr Logan also confirmed the group of protesting detainees was on view to the public and that early morning traffic was being affected by the protest.

“It’s at an intersection,” he added. “With the traffic being held up at the intersection, they’re certainly getting plenty of access to the signs and to the group.”

However, Mr Logan said he was uncertain how the group managed to breach the perimeter fence, but said the matter would be investigated.

“The main priority is we get them back inside the centre.”

Mr Logan said police were still deciding whether to charge the Indonesian accused people smugglers who rioted on Sunday and Monday.

However, Mr Logan said he did not believe the protesters today were part of the same group.

“This is quite a separate group holding signs,” he said.

“They are in detention under the migration act until such time as their claims for asylum have been assessed.”

Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is pressuring the government to explain what it will do to ensure the restoration of security and safety at the Darwin Immigration Detention Centre.

“The Opposition has been frustrated by the caretaker government’s unwillingness to provide briefings on what is a very sensitive matter,” he told The Australian Online.

“There have been two incidents, there were two effective riots up there in Darwin… We’ve been denied those briefings now on two occasions and I’ll obviously call for another one today.”

Mr Morrison said he wanted to know what the government and the Immigration Department of Immigration were doing to ensure the “ongoing security and safety of people including the detainees in what is increasingly turning out to be a pressure locker situation”.

With AAP

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