Direct Action At Detention Center

John (3CR): And on the line, we have Alex Kelly, part of the INDYMEDIA collective and currently out at Woomera Detention Centre. Good morning, Alex.

Alex: Good Morning.

John (3CR): Now, there’s been conflicting stories in the media with regards to what has happened out at Woomera. Maybe you’d like to tell us first what exactly occurred yesterday and last night.

Alex: Sure. Firstly, I’d just like to say that I’m extremely tired. I haven’t slept much over the last few days and am pretty emotional as well. If I do have to take some time or break down, deal with me okay?

John (3CR): Not a worry.

Alex: Basically there’s been lots of spokescouncils and action plannings and so on going on out here. And at about 5:45, word came though that the detainees were going to be having an action at 6:00 and they were calling for us to have a simultaneous action in solidarity and chant with them. So en masse we moved around the outside of the temporary fence that is only 200 metres long, which is guarded by federal police. So we crossed the road and went around that fence with the soundsystem, chanting, drums and so much amazing colour and life. And we couldn’t believe that we were getting so close and the police weren’t coming, because they’d being circling and circling and driving through camp and spotlighting the fences at night. And we got to a fence that was about five metres high with a huge coil of barb wire on top. People were, you know, chanting and putting banners on the fence. And then people were climbing up on the fence. And all of a sudden there was a critical mass of people hanging on the fence that the fence began starting to bend. And then more and more people climbed on the fence. And the fence came down! No one could believe it the fence had came down. And there was barbed wire along the top of the fence and so this was the next problem. How to get over the barbed wire? And again, all of a sudden people were climbing and jumping over it to unbelievably find sand bags on the other side which people used to stamp down the fence and covered it in sandbags, the weight of it keeping it down. People started flooding across it towards the centre, and at that stage I honestly thought…we were just going to get to the next fence before the detention centre and get to it to be hemmed in and caught from behind. But there was a huge gate and it was open and we just flooded through the gate. There was only five riot police and they were standing at a gate about 20 metres from where about 15 detainees were. Then there’s a further two fences, that are about 6 metres high, both with barbed wire at the top and with a huge coil of barbed wire between them. We went straight up to the fence and we were exchanging flowers and chanting “freedom”… together…and about another 70 detainees…um…sorry …managed to come out inside the two fences, so they were on the other side of the coil of razor wire about a metre and a half from us. And people were touching hands and chanting and crying and screaming and together everyone was chanting “freedom”…And that was the situation for about 20 minutes. It was so highly emotional, it was just so incredible. Because everything we’ve ever said about borders, and fences, and freedom of movment… and racism – all the words and all the talk and all the ideas that we’ve ever had was just so realised in that moment. It was so amazing. And then people were throwing towells over the fence and trying to rip it down. There were protesters on either side of the fence, and then all of a sudden a paling came out of the fence and refugees started to flood through the fence. People were changing clothes with them and rushing them back a kilometre to the protest camp. Yeh, it was just incredible.

John (3CR): Wow. Obviously, as you say it is a very emotional time. As you say all the words, and the meeting and the planning and the things that we’ve seen over the last couple of months has really crystallised in this moment.

Pilar (3CR): So what we’re hazy on is what happened after that. So a stream of people got out and then some in that moment were re-captured and as you’ve said we’ve heard reports that people were trying to make these detainees blend into the crowd. What happened in the hours after that once you all sort of went back to camp?

Alex: Okay. There’s some things I don’t want to say because I would think it would compromise the safety of some of the actions that have been taken. And I just think they might be stories that may never get out. But what I can tell you is that a number of cars left the camp and the latest that we’ve heard from ‘legal’ is that a number of people driving cars have been arrested and are being held without bail in Port Augusta under charges of assisting people to escape. And that a number of detainees have been captured. But we have no understanding of how many people actually got through the fence. We don’t know how many got in cars, we don’t know if there’s any still here, we don’t know what’s going on. But we’ve heard reports of further protest inside, we’ve seen one ambulance go inside and the media who’s here have told us that when media is here they never bring anyone who’s injured out. We know that they used tear gas last night, and a lot people were cut and bleeding from the razor wire.

John (3CR): A lot of the mainstream media, The Age and The Australian included, have actually reported that there’s still about five people, I think, that are ‘at large’, shall we say. And at least one of those is well out of the area and currently on their was, I think, to one of the major cities. That’s the report that have come through the mainstream media at the moment.

Alex: Well, as I said before, I don’t really want to speculate in the interests of safety. I mean, for a lot of people who are involved in INDYMEDIA we had a really intense situation where we had incredible possibilities for stories last night. We had access to amazing interviews, footage, stories but it was a situation of: is it worth doing media about this if it is going to compromise the chances of these people to a genuine possibilities of…freedom. So I suppose, I haven’t heard that…but I’m elated to hear that there seems to be five people still unaccounted for. I don’t think I’d like to speculate on that any further at this time.

Pilar (3CR): What’s the mood there like now? Where to from now – another day of actions, what’s been decided?

Alex: On Palm Sunday (rally in Melbourne) a giant banner that had “freedom” written in Farsi, English and Arabic. And was signed by huge numbers of people at that rally is going to be unfurled. There’s some fantastic props and costumes, there’s a pair of bolt-cutters that are about 5 metres long. I think that people are going to assemble at the gate, I couldn’t tell you if there’s going to be further direct action or civil disobedience. I think the mood is a really intense mixture of elation and pride and also just sheer frustration at the fact that we had so much responsibility and we were so confined. For me personally, it was just one of those moments where, I’ll use the word John used – crystallised. Where all your critiques of state mechanisms and power control and the repression and the enforcement that can be used against people is really brought home for you. And one of the most frustrating things was that even though we have a degree more freedom than the people who are behind the fences, we’re no more free. Because we’re being repressed by our own state and by the world order. And…I…just really wish that there was some way to convey what it felt like to be standing at the fences yesterday.

John (3CR): Well, Alex thankyou very much for talking to us today. And good luck for the rest of the day.

Alex: Thanks so much. And also just at this stage, I’d really like to encourage anybody to ring all the media, ring talkback radio, write letters to the editor. Contact people you know in aid agencies, Amnesty International, unions, your workplace. Anyone and everyone should try and put out statements in any way, shape or form in support of the protests both outside the detention centre and the one in which is ongoing. Particularly because there’s no independent people inside the detention centre, there’s no medical people other than the ambulance that we saw go in. There’s no lawyers in there. I think we really need to keep this issue on the agenda. What’s happened here is incredible. It wasn’t that the protesters freed the refugees or the refugees busted out – it was the genuine collaboration and that sort of solidarity is just incredible. We need to support it.

John (3CR): Alex thanks so much.

Alex: Thankyou, bye

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