reports from Woomera, Australia




Mar 29 2002

Fences come down - will borders be next?

Events at the Woomera2002 Festival of Freedoms moved quickly as protesters dismantled fences and made a dash for freedom. Police surround Woomera2002 campsite and institute movement checks.

At 6pm, detainees began protesting inside the Detention Centre. They were quickly joined by around 1,000 people who bypassed the police roadblock, walked almost a kilometre toward the back of the Detention Centre, and dismantled the outer perimeter fence to join with them.

Protesters behind the wire had asked that protesters outside join them in some chants, some of which included: 'ACM, immigration mafia' and 'Freedom'. Protesters ran to meet those behind the inner fence with cheers, messages of support and chants for freedom. At the fence, detainees spoke with people on the other side of the fence, and some made a courageous attempt to climb the fence and join the 1,000-strong crowd on the other side.

A hole was cut into the inner razor-wire fence that separated protesters, amd several detainees escaped. Estimates vary, but two or three of the escapees were recaptured by the police and immediately taken back the Detention Centre.

Alleging that the Woomera2002 campsite are harbouring escapees, police have established a roadblock on the road leading out of the Woomera2002 campsite, are doing identity checks on all people leaving the campsite, and have set up a cordon all around the campsite to ensure that no one gets in or out without being checked by police.

Conflicts have arisen between the Australian Protective Services (a Commonwealth security force) and the South Australian Police over who has the jurisdiction to make arrests of protesters at Woomera2002.

The South Australian Premier reached for that old favourite, the "rent-a-crowd" figure with which to lay the groundwork for police violently moving against the Woomera2002 campsite. Protesters have at each stage insisted that police not use violence against those on either side of the wire, but as yet there have been no assurances regarding this.

Latebreaking news: Detainees inside Woomera refused to let ACM (detention centre guards from Australian Correctional Management) conduct a headcount in order to ascertain just how many and which detainees had made it out of the Detention Centre. ACM has responded with tear gas and beatings.


Tear gas used on Woomera protesters

(from, 07:53 AEDST Sat 30 Mar 2002)

Guards at the Woomera Detention Centre used teargas to break up a group of asylum seekers who attacked them with bed posts and slingshots, an immigration spokesman said.
Up to 20 asylum seekers escaped from the troubled South Australian centre tonight after hundreds of refugee activists stormed a perimeter fence about 6pm (1830 AEDT).
Twelve escapees have since been recaptured, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs said tonight.
"The mood at the centre is volatile," the spokesman said.
Australian Correctional Management (ACM) officers were called to a disturbance in the centre about 10pm.
"The 10 to 12 officers who attended were forced back into a fence and encircled by a large group of detainees.
"They attacked the guards with rocks, chairs, steel bed posts, slingshots and garbage bins."
The officers decided to leave the compound and "minimal teargas was used", the spokesman said.
No injuries were suffered during the incident but there was extensive damage to internal fences and bedding, he said.
Meantime, Woomera had been cordoned off with police roadblocks on every road out of the isolated township, a South Australian police spokeswoman said.
The blocks were expected to remain in place until police located the eight asylum seekers believed to still be at large.
No charges had been laid in relation to the protesters actions and the breakout, the spokeswoman said.
The situation was calm at the protesters campsite about 1km from the detention centre, Refugee Action Collective member Natasha Verco said.

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