Teachers strike for refugee rights

Members of the Queensland Teachers Union at Yeronga State High School in Brisbane went on strike in support of refugee rights on 17 November. The stop-work was an escalation of their campaign to secure the return of Mojgan Shamslispoor, a refugee student who was forcibly transferred to a Darwin detention centre three months ago.

Dozens of students held a sit-in nearby to make the same demand as their teachers. “Having a friend stolen from us opened our eyes as to what is really going on with the government”, said Eden Boyd, the school captain. 

Teachers who addressed the meeting outlined their goal of challenging a refugee policy which forces significant numbers of young people to complete their studies in detention. Even students permitted to live in the community face insecurity and restriction of their freedoms, they reported.

“People on bridging visas must sign a document that says, ‘I will not protest against the Australian government’”, explained QTU workplace representative Jessica Walker. “Students have said to me they wish they could come to rallies but are scared it will get back to their case worker and they will lose their visa. This atmosphere of fear is something we need to put a stop to.”

Messages of encouragement from teachers across Queensland and the rest of the country flowed through on social media. A resolution that QTU members at Yeronga will continue to campaign for refugee rights in 2016 was unanimously passed.

Fatima Flores, a contract teacher, spoke to Red Flag at a community protest following the stop-work meeting. “I feel proud to be a part of [the strike]”, she said.

“We’re standing up to the government for human rights. I think it sends a really loud message because we’re uniting as teachers to say no, we can’t tolerate this any further. They’re not listening to us through other actions and mediums so we are refusing to teach this afternoon.”

However, Mojgan’s husband Milad Jafari pointed out that although the teachers had stopped work, they gave an important lesson in how to fight for justice.