#SaveSaeed and the Villawood Anti-Deportation Movement
Words by Bridget Harilaou
On the 24th of March, Sydney activists received word from refugee allies in Melbourne that Saeed (not his real name) had been snuck out of a back gate at MITA (a Melbourne immigration detention facility) and driven in the dead of night nine hours to Villawood Detention Centre. He had been denied access to his lawyer and despite being declared too unwell to fly by doctors, was scheduled for deportation from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.
Let me paint a picture of Saeed’s situation. As a member of a religious minority in his country of origin, he has faced violence, persecution and the risk of death. After fleeing with his brother to seek asylum in Australia he was imprisoned for years on end - while his brother’s almost identical application for a humanitarian visa was approved. Apparently, his claim was denied due to an administrative technicality and his appeal was also denied. Now he faces deportation back to the very country which threatens his safety, where he fears for his life, and where he says he will likely be arrested upon return. He has been on a hunger strike for three weeks to valiantly protest against the deplorable actions of the Australian government. Shamefully, prior to his transportation to Sydney he was force-fed through a tube while unconscious in a Melbourne hospital. In his most recent words through his lawyer Alison Battisson, Saeed has said, “Please do not deport me, I am a human being too.
This is the state of immigration policy in Australia, the absolute injustice happening right now, with a case right on our doorstep - this man is not on Manus Island or Nauru, where journalists have been blocked from entering and workers face two years in prison for speaking out. Saeed is in Sydney at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre and is asking Peter Dutton and the Australian government not to deport him and to properly assess his claim for refugee status.
His wrongful deportation back to danger cannot be explained in any way other than a complete violation of human rights, the UN Convention of Refugees (of which Australia is ironically a signatory), and most of all a total violation of humanity. His treatment in this system goes against all common human decency and any ethical or moral standards with which we can measure it. We know he has been persecuted, we know he fears for his life, and yet we subject him to what the UN has defined as torture.
Sydney refugee ally activists gathered outside Villawood as soon as the alarm was raised, to continue the campaign #SaveSaeed that Melbourne activists had begun. I was one of them.
On Friday night, around seventy activists from across Sydney came together and we successfully stopped Saeed’s deportation, which was scheduled for that night. Through the sheer amount of people who turned out to block the driveway, we helped delay Saeed’s deportation. Combined with the Melbourne actions, this has been the longest any asylum seeker has ever been delayed from deportation, a full seven days.
However, as more and more riot police arrived on Friday night, I watched as they blocked the driveway and began to corral protesters, eventually diving into the crowd to grab people, throw them to the ground and arrest them. I backed away to escape police violence, but a police officer pushed and shoved me repeatedly even as I willingly moved in the direction I was being pushed. Four people were arrested on the 24th, despite the peaceful nature of the protest.
Since Friday night, there has been around the clock vigilance of the Villawood compound in case they attempt to move Saeed to the airport for deportation. I believe our watchful eyes are a huge part of the reason why Saeed has not been moved, and why he remains in Australia.
On Sunday night, a candlelight vigil was held in Saeed’s name last night outside Villawood, to encourage people to visit and show that support for Sayeed. The event stated, “We need to stand together as a community, this vigil welcomes all human beings who believe in the end of indiscriminate torture happening in our country.”
At the vigil, a statement by ex-President of the University of Sydney SRC Kyol Blakeney was read in which he drew similarities between the plight of Aboriginal people and asylum seekers.
“To me, refugees share many common factors with us; both have been disenfranchised to serve the further development of western nations… both have been forced to face brutal conditions in incarceration facilities... I therefore stand in strong solidarity with my brother and sisters facing these horrific human rights violations and as a traditional owner, I hereby advise them that they will always be welcome on my land regardless of what any government policy states.”
After the vigil was over, a van drove past activists camping overnight to keep watch over the gate. In the car, a middle-aged white man wearing a guards uniform screamed as loudly as he could repeatedly banging on the windows, pretending to be Saeed in distress and mocking activists as they rushed to the car to help. This is just one example of the sadistic and overtly antagonistic actions of police and security towards activists, it shows exactly the kind of people employed to ‘care’ for refugees. They take pleasure in the pain of asylum seekers and those who support them and seek to break our spirits - it is impossible to describe the deep anger and pain I felt while watching such a man drive out of the compound freely while inside hundreds of innocent people are indefinitely kept within its fences.
Saeed’s inhumane deportation is still looming, and refugee allies of any kind are sorely needed to cover shifts at Villawood keeping watch over the gates. The time to take action and save a life is now, the time to take a stand against the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers in Australia is now. Join the campaign to #SaveSaeed and bring #Justice4Refugees.