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News ::
18 Apr 2003

The first of a weekend of protests are underway outside the Baxter Detention facility near Port Augusta, Australia. Six persons were arrested during clashes with police. Mounted police and officers armed with riot gear charged into the 500-strong protest crowd dismantling their tents which they had set up just moments earlier. Protesters attempted to fend off police by forming rings around their property.

Several buses from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland arrived in Port Augusta about 10am yesterday, converging on Gladstone Square park in the heart of Port Augusta. About four hours later, protesters converged at the western roadblock, about 3km from the detention center gates. Police formed a human fence across the roadway. Tempers flared as protesters were informed placards, flagpoles and banners would be banned. No One Is Illegal spokesperson Camille Barbagallo said protesters were unhappy with the "ridiculous" roadblock and campsite and said police had been unrealistic about the situation. "People are really determined to get as close to the detention center as they can and that's what we intend to do," she said. "People have clearly showed they are here for one reason and that is to highlight the atrocities going on in the Baxter Detention Center." The protesters were eventually allowed to set up camp 200m from the western roadblock and had confiscated items returned.

Protesters and their belongings were searched at police roadblocks established two kilometers from the center, on the outskirts of Port Augusta in South Australia's north. Police have also banned balloons, kites and tennis balls at the protests.

As the protesters arrived, refugee advocates claimed two asylum seekers freed from Baxter yesterday were abandoned in the center of Port Augusta by immigration officials and told to fend for themselves. Advocate Jack Smit, from the Project SafeCom group, said the asylum seekers had been released following a court ruling this week that the government could not detain people awaiting deportation. Smit said the Iranian men were found wandering Port Augusta's city center by a lawyer.

Greens national spokesperson for refugees Pamela Curr slammed the conditions at Baxter, claiming "not even the highest security prison in Australia has electric fencing". She hoped the weekend's protest would bring attention to the plight of refugees. "A lot of us have done some soul searching about coming here because there were reprisals from Woomera for three weeks after," she said. "But we have asked them (the detainees) if they want us to come and they answered `yes, if you do not come nobody will know we are here or know our story'."

By Friday night protester numbers are expected to reach their peak with numbers estimated at anything from 3000 to 8000 people converging on the city. On Saturday a ‘Rock On Against Racism' (ROAR) concert will be staged with organizers planning a "gig loud enough for detainees to hear".

Refugee Action Collective protest organizer Fleur Taylor, from Melbourne, said center manager Australasian Correctional Management (ACM), authorized by the Department of Immigration (DIMIA), had increased punishment of Baxter detainees. "ACM and DIMIA are desperate to avoid scrutiny of the brutal regime inside Baxter and have used the Easter protests as a pretext to confine people in conditions reminiscent of Camp X-Ray," Taylor said, referring the US military camp detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Sources: The Transcontinental (Port Augusta), The Age (Australia), Townsville Bulletin (Australia), Advertiser (Adelaide), IMC/Melbourne

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