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Protests slamming mandatory detention kicked off at Darwin’s newest centre, Wickham Point, after those who travelled up from Sydney and Melbourne were stopped from visiting detainees over Easter weekend.

In Australia, there is no time limit on how long asylum seekers can be kept in mandatory detention.

Recent figures from the Immigration Department show that 5,000 asylum seekers are currently detained, of which 544 are children.

“The ban is typical of Serco’s arbitrary and unaccountable management of detention centres,” Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson from Refugee Action Coalition, Sydney, said.

“We were determined for asylum seekers at Wickham to know there was help on the outside, people who cared.”

A Sydney-based activist, Mark Goudkamp, along with Mr Rintoul, was among seven arrested in Darwin for attempting to climb a hill and make contact with the detainees.

“Our simple attempt to reach an elevated point where we could interact with the asylum seekers, albeit still from a long distance, is clearly not what DIAC, Serco or the police want us to do,” he said.

Protests also occurred across other major Australian cities condemning effects mandatory detention can have on asylum seekers.

A recent parliamentary committee’s report into the detention system provided evidence that acute mental illness is widespread across detention centres.

On April 9 at Villawood, Sydney, scores of protestors marched from Chester Hill train station, urged on by news that a mentally ill Tamil refugee had been beaten by Serco guards a week before.

NSW Greens member and refugee activist, Mehreen Faruqi spoke at the protest.

“We need to accommodate refugees with compassion and kindness, not imprison innocent families behind fences and under lock and key,” she said.

“Campaigning to end mandatory detention has been taking place for some years now and highlights the cruelty of such practices.

It also helps dispel some myths about asylum seekers, who have over the years made significant contributions to the social, civic and economic well-being of Australia.”

Diane Fields, also from RAC, condemned the Immigration Minister for his refusal to administer a time limit on mandatory detention, let alone do away with it altogether.

“Chris Bowen has known for a long time about the damage detention does to people who have committed no crime,” she said.

“The news of bashing an aslyum seeker in Villawood is further evidence of the mistreatment of those in detention by Serco, the private company that profits from running detention centres.”

By Punam Vyas