Tracie Aylmer attended the Villawood protest yesterday. Tracie is a migration agent and solicitor who comes into regular contact with asylum seekers. In this guest post she expresses her disappointed at the behaviour of many of the protesters whose behaviour, she laments, did nothing for the cause of those in detention.
I have only been to two protests in my entire life.
The first protest was a few weeks ago – the March In March. It was so well organised, that people respected not only themselves, but others and the police. There were no arrests, even with the tens of thousands of people who marched with me.
The second was yesterday – on 5 April 2014 – at Villawood Detention Centre.
Before I go into detail in relation to my experiences of the asylum seeker protest, I think I should explain who the asylum seekers are. I am in constant contact with the Hazara community. They are peaceful, gentle and very respectful members of our community. They do not like to fight, which is why so many are tortured and/or die at the hands of the Taliban in areas such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. They actually refuse to fight back!
My contacts in the Hazara community saw the video (now made private) that was recorded yesterday. Their direct response, and I am quoting, is “it is not good”. They were very disappointed that so many people were behaving as they were in that video.
Due to these very lovely people, who have accepted me with open arms into their community, I respect everything they do and say. They are very gentle, and do not believe that people should be deliberately trying to become arrested in their name.
I cannot say how asylum seekers in Villawood Detention Centre would have reacted to the fact that people were arrested in their name, but if they are anything like my contacts in the Hazara community they would have felt ashamed.
Being vocal would have helped them realise that there are people outside of Villawood Detention Centre who do care for them, but ignoring police direction and going so far as to kick and punch police officers for doing their job goes above and beyond.
I believe some police officers do create ‘ultra vires’ moments. There’s little doubt of that – particularly considering why ICAC was formed.
But, the directive to move the asylum seekers came from far higher than the authority given to the police officers who were there yesterday. They obeyed orders. They did not make the orders. The buses were going to leave anyway. No matter what.
This government cannot ‘stop the boats’. That much is obvious, even if we now don’t hear about it. So what makes anyone on that day think they can ‘stop the buses’? Especially those officers that were there yesterday.
The police asked for people to move to the footpath. Considering the footpath is quite large, it sounded like a reasonable request. People could have been just as vocal on the footpath, as they were on the road. It didn’t matter where, as long as the people were vocal.
The police then said to the mothers for asylum seekers group that if people did not move onto the footpath, there would be every reason for the police to move people to the end of the street. Since the mothers were there to say goodbye to their long time friends (the asylum seekers), people should have listened to the mothers. The mothers were gentle and caring ladies, who deserved respect. They were near tears, as the connections formed were bonding. They saw the writing on the wall – the buses were going to leave anyway, and this was their last chance to say goodbye.
As it happened, no one was moved to the end of the street. Everyone stayed where they were.
People started speaking about their experiences. One of the mothers told about her experiences. Everyone was quiet and respectful for each person on the microphone. Then, a police officer wanted to talk. He was drowned out by protesters chanting the same chant over and over.
A short time later, a man came up to us and told us that people should have a right to be on the street if they wished. He said the protest was proper and people also had a right to talk. One of the mothers then asked “so why wasn’t the police officer then allowed to talk?”. We both then decided to ignore him.
Shortly after this, and after a few hours of being there, I had to leave for personal reasons. A police officer escorted me to my vehicle. He was kindly and respectful, as I showed respect. He said he was only doing his job, as told by higher authorities. I said I was only there for the asylum seekers.
I was not there at the period of time when the protesters and police clashed. I am grateful that I wasn’t. This was not what I signed up for. I wanted to show the asylum seekers I was there for them. Instead, I had a protester tell me that I was selfish. I was told that I shouldn’t be there for me. It made me wonder – who was I there for, then? Because I certainly wasn’t there for the protesters!
Protesting in order to create ugly clashes with the police does nothing for the cause. It only shows those who vote LNP what they want to hear about asylum seekers – that perhaps they should be feared after all. Showing lack of respect for the police also shows lack of respect for the asylum seekers. They would not want people being injured or arrested in their name. It would make them feel guilty.
So to all the people who showed up to protest, and were in that video kicking, screaming and punching the police, who were you actually protesting for? If the asylum seekers don’t want to see this sort of thing going on, then is it really worth being arrested? Isn’t this the sort of mob mentality that the LNP are notorious for?
Isn’t this the sort of thing that the LNP staunch supporters would want to see?
Perhaps if we all calmed down and became as respectful as the asylum seekers, then all our protests would have the same tinge as one of the most successful protests in Australia in decades – the March In March.