Nine Chinese launch new Sydney immigration protest
By Greg Wood (AFP)
September 22, 2010
SYDNEY—-Nine Chinese nationals protested from the roof of an Australian immigration centre on Wednesday, following a tense stand-off with a group of Tamils a day earlier and the suicidal plunge of another inmate.
The nine including four women — one of whom is pregnant, according to activists — climbed onto the Villawood detention centre roof just 12 hours after the Sri Lankan Tamils were coaxed down.
“There are nine people — five males, four females — all Chinese nationals,” an immigration department spokesman told AFP. “These detainees are not illegal maritime arrivals,” he stressed.
Activists said the protesters were aged between 20 and 27 years old, had come into Australia on student or tourist visas and were now seeking asylum.
The Social Justice Network's Jamal Daoud, who is campaigning against Australia's mandatory detention of asylum-seekers, said they had been held for between two weeks and six months and one of the women was two months pregnant.
“They've demanded their immediate release to community and then the review of their cases,” Daoud said.
“At the moment we are trying to establish some contact with their support network, but their limited English is making things difficult.”
Television footage of the group showed at least one of the women crying, crouched near the rooftop's edge, and the immigration spokesman said police had been called to the scene as a precaution while negotiations continued.
“I don't have information to suggest that people are distressed or have been threatening to jump.”
Eight Sri Lankan Tamils ended a 30-hour rooftop standoff with authorities at the centre on Tuesday night after negotiations with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR). They had threatened to jump if their cases were not reviewed.
Their protest followed the death of Fijian Josefa Rauluni, 36, who leaped to his death in front of horrified onlookers on Monday, shortly before he was due to be deported.
Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers while their claims are processed, and generally holds detainees on remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
But increasing numbers of illegal immigrants arriving by boat — more than 4,000 so far this year — have forced the reopening of mainland centres, including Villawood, which houses about 300 people.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen stressed that the protests related to claims for asylum and were not about conditions in the detention centres, but he admitted that the system was under strain.
“I've made it clear, and in as up-front way as I can, that our detention centres are under some pressures,” he said.
He blamed the crowded centres on increased boat numbers, higher rejection rates due to the improvement of security conditions in some countries and an ongoing freeze on processing of Afghan refugee claims.
“I understand that emotions run very high when it comes to asylum claims but it is down to our officials and our tribunals to determine cases on all the facts,” he said.
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