The fight to save Saeed

A desperate fight is being undertaken by refugee activists around Australia to stop the government deporting a man to extreme danger.

Saeed is a 60-year-old stateless refugee from a persecuted minority in Iraq, who faces imminent danger if he is returned there. The head of his village was killed in a suicide attack in 2015. Saeed is not his real name; it is a pseudonym being used because of the danger he faces if deported. He fled to Australia by boat in 2012 with his brother, who has since been granted asylum.

The Department of Immigration is determined to deport Saeed, using the technicality that he allegedly did not complete his asylum application in time. Saeed, who does not speak English, was never told that he had the right to appeal his initial flawed refugee determination.

His lawyer, Alison Batisson, said, “Saeed’s case is another example of an asylum seeker getting lost in an unfamiliar legal system. Australia’s system for hearing and reviewing protection claims is so complex that many find it impossible to navigate”.

In late March, immigration officials had him booked on a flight. And they had the guards, shackles and hoods ready to forcibly drag this innocent 60 year old onto a plane to dump him back in a situation of life-threatening chaos, in a country torn apart by war.

The sadistic cruelty and hypocrisy of deporting someone to Iraq, a country that the West invaded, occupied and utterly destroyed from 2003 onwards under the slogan of “liberation”, beggars belief. At this very moment, the US-led coalition, which includes Australia, is dramatically escalating its indiscriminate bombing of Mosul, leading to a huge spike in civilian deaths.

The only thing stopping the deportation of Saeed was his own desperate resistance and the refugee activists who rushed to support him. Saeed had been on a two-week hunger strike and was in a very weak state. Meanwhile, activists maintained a constant blockade of the MITA detention centre in Melbourne and then the hospital where Saeed was being held.

Saeed has now been moved to Sydney’s Villawood detention centre, as has the struggle to stop his removal from the country. As soon as the move became known on 24 March, a snap protest was called and about 100 demonstrators rushed to Villawood, checking cars to make sure Saeed wasn’t being smuggled to the airport, and coming under attack from a large police contingent.

Activists have been maintaining a constant presence at the gates of Villawood to ensure Saeed can’t be taken without a fight. The following statement from Saeed was read out at a 29 March vigil at the centre:

“Thank you to everyone who is protesting to help me stay in Australia. Immigration has treated me very badly and make me worried and depressed. I cannot go back to my country; it is dangerous for me. I am very happy to know that people are supporting me. Thank you.”

Protests and occupations have been held at Immigration Department and politicians’ offices in cities around Australia. Tens of thousands have signed an online petition initiated by Mums for Refugees, which calls on the airlines not to participate in this brutal deportation. Crucially, hundreds have signed up to emergency contact lists to be ready to respond if we get the word that Saeed is about to be moved to the airport.

Direct action to try to disrupt deportation is an important part of the fight. It has already helped to prevent Saeed’s deportation, and it is part of building the necessary pressure on the politicians, and the airlines, to give up on this cruel act. If we can make the disruption and political pain of deporting Saeed more than it’s worth for the government, then we can win.

The Greens have spoken out against Saeed’s deportation. The Labor Party, predictably, has not. Saeed’s lawyer has released this statement: “Yesterday I was finally able to see my client Saeed. When he saw me he hugged me, wept, and held my hand while we walked into the interview room … he was very frail”.

The fight to save this one man is an important part of the overall fight to challenge and dismantle the whole apparatus of racist cruelty that has been constructed to oppress refugees in this country.