Photograph: Workers prepare to tow the protesters’ car from the tracks at Ascot Vale. Photo: Jason South/ The Age.com
Evacuate Manus now! This week, several protests were stage throughout Australia, by social groups who condemn the inhumane treatment of refugees at Manus Island. On Tuesday, WACA-activists climbed to the top of the Sydney Opera House to protest against the treatment of refugees on Manus. Also on Tuesday, surrounding the world famous annual Melbourne Cup horse races, protesters climbed a crane at and unfurled a banner above the racecourse calling for Manus Island refugees to be evacuated. Several hours earlier, a different group of protesters drove a Ford Laser onto the train-tracks at Ascot Vale, deflated the car’s tires and bolted a woman to the steering wheel. When police arrived at the scene about 20 protesters fled, leaving the woman in the car to be extracted by firefighters. The car was removed but passengers heading for the races were delayed for up to an hour, according to The Guardian.
Protesters did not target the Melbourne Cup-event without a reason. “We are really appalled at the situation on Manus Island and we think it’s really inappropriate for people to be celebrating when there are individuals with no water and no security,” one activist said. Charlotte Lynch from the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance (WACA), a grassroots community that mobilizes for change from the local to the global level, said the organization will be escalating their actions and civil disobedience throughout the week “and if takes breaking the law to get these men off Manus we’ll do it.”
The Manus- struggle revolves around a refugee detention center on Manus Island, in northern Papua New Guinea. Annually, thousands of people attempt to reach Australia on boats from Indonesia, looking for a better life there. Australian leading political parties say the journey asylum seekers make is dangerous and controlled by criminal gangs, and claim they have a duty to stop it. In 2013, the Australian government toughened their stance even further and put the military in control of asylum operations, now claiming that their policies have restored the integrity of its borders, and helped prevent deaths at sea.
However, since the reopening of the detention center on Manus Island in 2012, it has seen nothing but scandals and human rights violations. In 2014, escalating protests at the center resulted in 77 people injured, one fatally. In May this year, PNG immigration officials confirmed the centre will close on 31 October, and told detainees that over the following months basic services were shut down, to encourage them to leave. This is how the situation remains until this day. Amir Taghinia, a refugee from Iran who was transferred to Canada only recently, claimed that although he was grateful to be in Canada, he could not forget about his friends. “They are starving, they have no water to drink. It is very, very likely we will have more deaths in the next coming days,” Taghinia told the Guardian on Monday.
Australian activist have been fighting for the closure of Manus and two other offshore island detention camps for the last year. In December, protesters abseiled down Parliament House in Canberra, unfurling a banner saying “close the bloody camps now”, while 13 more demonstrators held placards in a pond they dyed red to symbolize blood. By organizing a boycott against Australian security company Wilson, who provides security services on Australia’s offshore detention centers, the activists tackle another pillar upholding the human rights violating practices.