Police use Stay at Home Directions to crack down on refugee protest

Sixty refugees are detained in cramped conditions in a hotel in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

The refugees, evacuated from Manus Island for medical treatment, have been under guard in Preston’s Mantra Hotel since mid-2019. Before that, they had been held on Manus Island for over seven years.

Melbourne’s Refugee Action Collective (RAC) has held a series of protests highlighting the plight of refugees dumped in make shift detention centres around Australia. The plight of these refugees has become all the more urgent in light of the coronavirus pandemic. These men where evacuated to Australia under the so-called medivac bill, they all have medical conditions requiring treatment. They should be released immediately.

In view of the pandemic, RAC had planned a protest that would meet the social distancing requirements imposed by the state government:

Car Cavalcade From Manus to the Mantra Set Them Free!

The health emergency makes this protest to free refugees more important than ever. We can show them our solidarity. Here is how it will work:

Drive your car to the meeting point at Hotham St Preston and form a cavalcade (behind light blue Hyundai Getz).

We will travel south down Hotham st, then around the Mantra three times before proceeding down High st.

We encourage you to bring your own signs and decorate your cars with signs and slogans like

“Free the Refugees”
“Covid19: Detention Isn’t Safe”.
“Healthcare not detention“
“Let them stay“
“End Offshore and onshore detention”

For health reasons we ask: no more than 2 people per car, and for people in cars to be from the same household. Do not get out of your car if others are around (one at a time for spray chalk). Do not come if you are sick, or in close contact with a sick person.

Be careful not to cover number plates with signage, and obey all road rules.

So how did Victoria Police respond to plans for an entirely safe car convoy protest?

We were told by Preston police that our proposed protest was illegal and we faced fines of $1652 for every person who took part, plus maybe $20,000 for RAC. We have had indirect contact with the Victorian Police Minister who confirmed this.

With the courts effectively in recess, the ‘state of emergency’ in Victoria has delivered Victoria Police sweeping and unchecked power to control public life. Despite all talk of reasonableness and police discretion, Victoria Police have not hesitated to use emergency health powers to crack down on protests and freedom of expression.

The full statement from the Refugee Action Collective is below:

Cavalcade protest is safe, detention centres are not – Free the refugees

No authoritarian shutdown of protest

RAC has postponed its car cavalcade until Friday April 10 (Good Friday) to give us time to build wide support for solidarity with refugees, even if that means defying the banning of safe public protest.

We were told by Preston police that our proposed protest was illegal and we faced fines of $1652 for every person who took part, plus maybe $20,000 for RAC. We have had indirect contact with the Victorian Police Minister who confirmed this.

The hypocrisy is staggering. Our protest would have been completely safe, with only two people per car (from the same household) and no one getting out of their cars. Our protest would be safer than going shopping, safer than traveling on public transport, safer than non essential work that continues, and safer by an order of magnitude than being stuck in a sealed corridor in the Mantra.

People are up to 4 in a room detained in hotels. At Kangaroo Point in Brisbane, refugees are a maximum of 65cm apart in meal queues. In the Mantra, airline staff use the hotel regularly. Serco employees do not practice social distancing and come and go. It is only a matter of time before coronavirus devastates detention centres.

Over 1200 doctors have signed a letter calling for the release of refugees from detention. ALP federal MPs Ged Kearney and Peter Khalil have called for the release of refugees in the Mantra, and income support for those in the community.

We call on premier Daniel Andrews to join these calls by

1) Publicly calling for the release of all refugees from detention, and providing safe accommodation for refugees in Victoria

2) Using public health powers to release refugees from detention in Victoria

2) Allowing safe protest in the form of car and bicycle cavalcades.

In the meantime we call in supporters to

a) join the online Palm Sunday justice for refugees protest this Sunday (link) by taking selfies with signs highlighting the above demands

b) in your own time, and at your own leisure, go for an excercise walk past the Mantra hotel. Chalk a sign on the pavement to free the refugees, and send us a picture of it

c) Join the UWU cavalcade next Thur with refugee signs