About 150 protesters gathered outside the detention centre at Northam this afternoon to protest against mandatory detention and offshore processing.
The Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, which was constructed at a cost of $125 million and sparked community concern about problems if the centre became overcrowded, can house up to 600 asylum seekers and is almost full.
There were few locals amongst the group, with most of the protesters arriving at the facility on buses from Perth about midday.
About 20 WA police officers and a dozen members of the Australian Federal Police watched over the protesters as they demonstrated at the facility and marched to a nearby hill, where they shouted out to people inside.
They marched through the facility to the car park, where they shouted messages of support to the refugees inside and wrote chalk messages on the concrete.
Protesters held placards reading “free the refugees – justice, not racism” and “welcome to Northam” and yelled chants such as “Julia Gillard, shame on you, not Manus and not Nauru” and “refugees are welcome, racists are not”.
WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the politics surrounding the issue had become “absolutely degraded and warped” and that today’s turnout showed Australians wanted to push back.
“This is going to be resolved, as these things generally are, on the street,” Mr Ludlam said.
Refugee Rights Action Network WA spokesman Marcus Hampson said the protest was held to show the community opposition to the Federal Government’s policies.
“What we are hoping to achieve is purely to show the community won’t stand for these policies,” Mr Hampson said.
“We are there to show that community opposition and to let people inside the detention centres know that refugees have support, so those people who have survived this journey know that Australians do welcome them and there are people here who are working to fight for their rights.”
Northam school teacher Steve Miller, who carried a sign saying “welcome to Northam”, said he attended to show there was community support for the refugees.