Friday, August 13, 2010

Compassion Caravan for refugee rights departs

The Refuge Rights "Compassion Caravan" to the Leonora detention centre departed this morning (Fri 13 August). Pictured are some of the dedicated crew who are making the journey to bring solidarity and gifts for the children in detention.

Green Left Weekly's Niko Leika spoke to Phil Chilton from the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN) in the lead up to the August 13-15 convergence to Leonora Detention Facility.

GLW: Have you had any contact with people in Leonora?
Phil Chilton: We’ve spoken with locals, the indigenous community in the area, as well as the Mayor. They don’t have a problem with the refugees, they’re happy for them to be there. The kids are welcome in the school.

GLW: Just before they arrived, didn’t an ambulance officer resign, saying she didn’t want to have anything to do with the refugees?
Phil Chilton: Yes, when we mentioned it,  people generally said “Oh, her. The press weren’t satisfied until they could find someone with a negative attitude. They spent a whole day looking for someone like that.”

GLW: The facility is in a disused mining camp. Are they surrounded by barbed wire?
Phil Chilton: Yes, and they have also put up hessian so you can’t see inside. There are no adult males in the camp, but sometimes the women are allowed out, accompanied by a guard.

GLW: Why the barbed wire, the hessian, and the security guards- surely they are not a threat to the community?
Phil Chilton: I think its more to stop the refugees from talking to anyone.

GLW: What has been the response of the authorities and the company running the camp, SERCO, to the proposed visit?
Phil Chilton: Well the aim of our visit is to show, particularly during this election campaign, that Australians welcome refugees. We plan to bring toys for the children. DIAC (the Department of Immigration and Citizenship) as well as the Federal Police have said its fine. Serco officers have thrown up all sorts of difficulties- that you need the name of the detainee you want to visit. In our experience at Perth Detention Centre, they’ve claimed the particular person is not there, when we know full well they are. Serco officers have claimed that the spelling is different, and therefore it’s a different person. That’s ridiculous, given the names are translated from other languages, such as Farsi- so they can be translated any number of ways. But we’ll find a way around it.