On a warm and sun-drenched Adelaide morning in February, about 20 refugee students and some teachers gathered in the quadrangle of Adelaide Secondary School of English to hand-paint, draw, write and glue a colourful assortment of placards.
They read, “Students say education not detention” and “Welcome refugees”. A huge sign said “Let them stay”. In another classroom, even more students and teachers were organising to paint huge signs that say “Close Nauru” and “It’s not fair”.
At ASSOE, we have been spurred into action and solidarity with many people, including numerous school communities, who have taken a stand against the High Court’s recent ruling that could lead to the forced return of hundreds of refugees to Nauru and Manus Island. The mere suggestion that we organise our own protest was enough – I was inundated with people wanting to be involved however they could.
At lunchtime, many staff and students gathered to protest and take photos to distribute online. A whole class that missed the event insisted on holding their own protest later in the day.
Several part time staff who were not rostered that day also pledged to be included and sent photos and messages of support to be displayed alongside the rest. After the protest, a prominent wall of the school was adorned with the placards, keeping the issue alive and a lingering source of discussion.
The recent history of young people removed from school communities means staff at ASSOE are well aware that our own refugee students are at risk of similar treatment at the whim of Border Force and the government.
In 2014, two students in community detention, both former students at my school who were studying at nearby Woodville High School, were whisked away in the dead of night and taken to Darwin’s Wickham Point Detention Centre, sparking a huge campaign by teachers and students to “‘Bring them home”.
Understandably, many frightened community detainees, including ASSOE students, facing a similar prospect, fled underground for fear of being detained.
Last year a refugee student from Brisbane’s Yeronga High, Mojgan Shamsalipoor, was taken back to detention, sparking the “Free Mojgan” campaign that led to teachers protesting and walking out of school for an afternoon.
In both these cases teachers, the AEU, SRC and students at my school were moved to take action and show our solidarity by holding protests at lunchtime, taking solidarity photos, signing petitions and attending community protests.
This won’t be the last time we protest against this government’s cruelty – teachers are prepared to support our own students if they are kidnapped by Border Force in the dead of night. An empty chair in the classroom, a classmate and a student lost would not be taken lightly.