Members of the local community have been protesting since April after finding out about the ongoing detention of 120 refugees, known as the KP120, in a repurposed apartment block in the Brisbane suburb of Kangaroo Point.
The refugees were transferred to the Kangaroo Point Central apartments from Manus Island and Nauru as part of the medevac law for treatment for medical conditions that are unable to be managed in offshore detention.
Some of the refugees have already been kept at the apartment block for more than a year on top of time already spent in offshore processing.
Although the immigration department has confirmed that around three quarters of the KP120 are genuine refugees, there is no clear end date for their detention, which is one of the reasons for the protests.
The protestors have a number of demands, which include an end to the forced transfers of refugees from the apartment block to various high security facilities like Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation, which is not built for long-term detainment, as well as for the refugees to be allowed free movement within the grounds of the apartment complex, and for the release of the KP120 by this Christmas.
Refugee Solidarity Brisbane/Meanjin protest spokesperson and Kangaroo Point local Laura Harland said many people in the community were surprised to find out there was a refugee detention facility in the middle of the suburb.
“Just so many people in the area just didn’t even know that there was a prison there,” Ms Harland said.
“There’ve been people locked up for seven years in the middle of the city and not heaps of people know about it,” she said.
Much has been written about protestors being arrested as well as about verbal conflicts protestors have had with police, but little has been written about the content of the protests and the actions taken by the protestors.
Many actions taken by the protestors have flown under the radar, and it is these actions that have served to foster a growth in community engagement with and compassion for the detainees.
Brisbane local and activist Harrison Phillips, who lives in nearby Annerley, said the protests were a way for the community to support the men trapped in detention.
“The rallies, they’re more community events, a lot of the time there’s free food,” Mr Phillips said.
“Like I said, there’s great music, great speeches, and they try and keep it a very family friendly, inclusive,” he said.
Kangaroo Point detainee and one of the 120 men kept in the apartments, Ebrahim Obeiszadeh, said some of the live music and speeches offered a welcome distraction for the detainees and let know they were being thought about.
“I think somehow it’s good, because inside this building, as it’s detention, there is not much things to do,” Mr Obeiszadeh said.
“I think everyone enjoyed that music part here.”
Mr Obeiszadeh said the support of the community, together with onsite counselling, could only go so far to help the detainees’ mental health if they were going to remain in detention for the foreseeable future.
“It’s not going to anytime finish; you don’t see any certain future,” he said.
“So, it’s going to damage you more and more.”
QUT psychology professor Robert Schweitzer said ongoing uncertainty could lead to mental strain for refugees in detention.
“Putting people in confinement is always going to be bad for people’s mental health and we know very well that people need to be able to make sense of situations,” Prof Schweitzer said.
“If they can’t make sense of the situation, it can lead to trauma,” he said.
Greens Councillor for The Gabba Ward, Jonathan Sri, said it was important for the refugees in detention to see and hear the support of the community.
“It helps them feel valued as human beings and feel like there’s more to life than just sitting and waiting for the government to change its mind, which I think really, really is important for people,” Cr Sri said.
Councillor Sri said it was heartening to see support for the refugees come from what were sometimes wildly different areas of the community.
“So, it’s not just a whole bunch of so-called progressive hippies or lefties who are concerned about the detention, but even conservative Christians are expressing concerns about what’s happening to these men,” he said.
Not all members of the community are supportive of the protesters and their actions.
Griffith University senior lecturer Dr Kasun Ubayasiri is a former journalist whose research focuses media coverage of human rights, among other things.
Dr Ubayasiri said while many community members were supportive of the Kangaroo Point protesters, some people vocally let the protestors know they disagreed as they drove past.
“The more unique aspect is the people who shout abuse out of windows at the protesters,” Dr Ubayasiri said.
“‘You go get a job, you dole bludgers’ is the standard sort of abuse that’s hurled at them, which is fascinating because the group of people who are out there, that’s not a bunch of dole bludgers,” he said.
“There’s a lady who comes there pretty much every day.”
“She finishes work, and she walks past there every day, and she’ll stand out there holding a sign for about half an hour before she goes home to have dinner.”
Despite the protestors’ commitment, Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge told radio station 5AA in an interview on August 19 that the community’s efforts in protesting about the KP120 would have no affect on what happened to the refugees.
Mr Tudge said in the interview that none of the refugees would be settled in Australia regardless of their refugee status, as it was against the federal government’s policy.
He said some of the refugees had the option to either return to Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and that some of them had the option go to the United States.
“They won’t be settled in Australia,” he told 5AA.
“I’ve made that perfectly clear.”
“Everybody knows our policy position.”
“So these protesters think that if they continue to protest, somehow we’re going to change our policy position, and we will not.”