For media comment email or call Chris on 0403 013 183 or Lucy on 0404 728 104.

Action alert: Refugee supporters to rally at Mantra in staggered groups of ten

15 May 2020

“From 2pm this Saturday May 16, refugee supporters will be protesting in relay form, in staggered groups of 10 outside the Mantra hotel detention centre in Preston,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Pressure is mounting on the Federal government to release the refugees held in detention. The recent actions at the Mantra hotel and MITA detention centre by activists and refugees have also intensified pressure on the Andrews government to speak up and to use health powers to release refugees.

“This protest will keep up the pressure, and comply with the new COVID health directions. We will conduct a protest relay, rotating through groups of 10 socially distanced protesters at a time.

“The protest area will be on Hotham Street, near the big refugee banner, opposite Bell City Mantra.

“The attempted suicide by hanging of a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra shows that refugees are at breaking point. They have spent almost seven years locked up having committed no crime, and the threat of COVID-19 is adding to the pressure on their mental health.

“We will call to free the refugees held across Australia and to drop the charge and fines on refugee supporters for their safe car convoy protest on April 10.

“We will have loudspeakers with speakers including Moz from Manus via phone from the Mantra, Hassan from Justice for Refugees, former Victorian MP Lidia Thorpe, Darebin Councillor Gaetano Greco, and Farhad Banesh from MITA via phone,” concluded Honan.

For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

Serco denies art materials to outspoken refugee

13 May 2020

Home Affairs and Serco forcibly moved Farhad Bandesh from the Mantra Hotel in Preston to MITA in Broadmeadows over three weeks ago. They continue to deny him access to his personal effects, including art supplies.

This appears to be an act of punishment for taking a public stand for his rights on the Manus Island refugee prison, in the Mantra Hotel and now in MITA.

He submitted a request form for his property items as directed, requesting access to his books, drawing pencils, brushes, paint and other creative materials.

Over these three weeks he repeatedly asked about the request. Each time he enquired he was directed to submit another request form – seven in total – as well as following up verbally with the manager several times. He was told yesterday that he will not be getting his property items. They gave no explanation.

Farhad fears his mental health will deteriorate as it is art that keeps him able to sustain himself. “And I can’t handle the fences. They are killing me.

“After seven years they still want to make us suffer any way they can. We are all sick, we need to be free. We have been tortured and tortured. They must remove us from this cruel hell,” he said.

Other people detained are allowed to have such items. This appears to be a direct punishment for him speaking up against this cruel policy.

Yesterday’s attempted suicide by a 32-year-old Tamil man at the Mantra should be enough evidence that the cruelty must end.

“Farhad has spoken out repeatedly against the refugee policy of successive governments,” Mitch Both, Refugee Action Collective spokesperson, said.

“The removal of Farhad from Mantra under cover of darkness three weeks ago was a punishment imposed for exercising his basic democratic rights to protest the appalling treatment he has suffered. This is yet another punishment. Farhad must be released.”

For comment call Mitch Both on 0406 820 184.

Police show political bias on protesting once again

10 May 2020

Just one day after police mobilised outside the Mantra Bell City hotel in Preston to fine three people exercising safely with pro-refugee posters, a crowd of over 100 anti-lockdown protesters without social distancing has been allowed to assemble outside State Parliament.

Refugee Action Collective spokesperson Lucy Honan said the police had twice turned out in numbers to shut down socially distanced solidarity action with the 65 refugees locked up in the Mantra and at grave risk of becoming a COVID-19 cluster.

“On Good Friday, they arrested one RAC supporter, Chris Breen, and charged him with incitement, and fined 30 refugee supporters who attended almost $50,000. The protest was not allowed to take place at all.

“Yesterday, they fined three refugee supporters exercising outside the hotel a total of five times.

“In shutting down our safe protest on Good Friday, Inspector Tom Ebinger from Darebin police said ‘Protest activity is not an exemption … There were here for an honourable purpose but community health has got to take priority for us and protest activity isn’t legal in the current environment.’

“Yet the police allowed an unsafe, right wing protest to take place in Trafalgar and have now allowed over 100 to crowd in on the steps of Parliament,” Honan said.

“This is total hypocrisy and shows the Victoria Police are politically biased.

“We call on Premier Dan Andrews to support the right to protest within the spirit of the health regulations, and to stop his police force from discriminating against refugee rights supporters.

“Meanwhile the men in the Mantra, who are suffering a range of medical conditions, are trapped and in fear of a COVID-19 outbreak. Premier Andrews needs to speak up for these refugees detained in Melbourne.

“They should be freed and the charge and fines against refugee supporters dropped,” Honan said.

For comment, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.

Police fine refugee supporters for carrying placards

9 May 2020

In another disgraceful display of an authoritarian state attacking the right to protest, Victorian police have again turned out to fine refugee supporters for being outside the Mantra hotel-prison that is holding 65 refugees in unsafe conditions.

“Despite announcing that the exercise protest at the Mantra Hotel had been postponed, Victorian police nonetheless turned out in numbers to issue fines to anyone carrying a placard outside the Mantra Hotel,” said Lucy Honan for the Refugee Action Collective.

“Three people exercising and carrying signs saying ‘detention is a covid risk’ had their details taken and were told they would get fines in the mail. Two were told by police that they will be fined twice ($3304 each) for not leaving quickly enough. People not carrying signs were not fined.

“When thousands of people are exercising over the weekend in Darebin, it is crystal clear that these three refugee supporters have been targeted for their political views. It is the refugees at the Mantra hotel who are not safe, not refugee supporters carrying signs.”

Mark, who was fined twice today, said: “This ongoing imprisonment of innocent people and the blatant harassment of their supporters is a gross injustice and a naked exercise of punitive authoritarian power.”

Honan concluded: “The Refugee Action Collective calls on Premier Daniel Andrews to end his silence, to speak up for the refugees in the Mantra, and to call on his police to stop harassing and fining refugee rights supporters. Safe political protest calling to free refugees at risk of COVID-19 is an essential activity and must be allowed.”

The postponed RAC protest will go ahead at the Mantra hotel next Saturday, 16 May, at 2pm.

Video of the people being fined is available here.

Call Lucy from RAC on 0404 728 104 or fined protester Mark on 0420 544 084 for further comment.

Police threaten refugee supporters with hundreds of thousands in fines

7 May 2020

Preston police have threatened to issue mass infringement notices to refugee supporters if they exercise outside the Mantra Bell City hotel.

The Refugee Action Collective has been calling on people to take their exercise there this Saturday, 9 May, to show compassion with the more than 60 refugees detained in the hotel.

RAC activist Lucy Honan said: “Exercise or offering care are both legitimate reasons to be away from home. But the police are threatening to treat people walking or jogging at safe, social distance as public enemies.

“With up to 400 people indicating interest in exercising, that would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines – all for the crime of caring about men who have been detained on Manus or Nauru for six years and now for up to a year in Preston.

“Safe, socially distanced exercise is not a risk. Locking up men brought here under the Medevac Act with pre-existing medical and psychological conditions, up to three to a room for 23 hours a day, is the real health risk.

“If the coronavirus is brought in by one of dozens of staff members, the refugees are vulnerable and trapped. They should be freed into the community where there are people offering caring, safe accommodation,” Honan said.

“Daniel Andrews has to take a stand and treat these refugees with basic humanity. The emergency health powers must be used to free them from detention. He needs to call off the police repression of our basic democratic right to protest.

“Police recently allowed a right-wing protest in Trafalgar to go ahead for 40 minutes with no social distancing, taking no names for infringement notices.

“Refugee supporters exercising outside the Kangaroo Point hotel in Brisbane, where more than 100 refugees are detained, have not been harassed by police, with another mass exercise called for Friday.

“Dan Andrews says he is the most progressive premier in Australia, but he is allowing his police to play blatant political favourites and crack down on our basic democratic rights. Andrews needs to end this attack on democracy,” Honan added.

For interviews, ring Lucy Honan on 0404 728 104.

Preston police have already charged a high school teacher, Chris Breen, and issued $48,000 in fines to 29 refugee supporters for taking part in a safe car convoy around the Mantra Bell City on Good Friday.

Support for Breen and the others is growing, with five unions, three senators and six state MPs among the many backing the call for the charge and fines to be dropped. See a full list.