By Jemma Nott
Passengers stood up to defend a man being forcibly deported.
A man seeking asylum in Australia, who was due to be deported by immigration officials in December, is being held in Villawood detention centre after a protest on December 19 on the plane blocked the deportation. One plane passenger, Steph O’Donnell, said the asylum seeker, Wei Lin, made himself known to passengers on the plane before take-off.
When he entered the plane he ran up the aisle with Serco guards (employees of Villawood detention centre) close behind, yelling “stop that man!” They caught him and forcefully escorted him back to his seat as he held his shackled hands in the air saying: “This is how they treat me.”
O’Donnell said: “Wei Lin was able to show his shackled wrists to the passengers and said, ‘I am a political asylum seeker. The Australian immigration department forced me to come to the airport and board the aeroplane against my will…’ before he was roughly pushed back to his seat.”
Before this, activist groups Refugee Action Coalition, Westies for Refugees and the Socialist Alliance were handing out leaflets with the details of Wei’s situation. Seven passengers consequently stood up on the plane and refused to take their seats, demanding that Lin be removed from the plane and the deportation called off.
O’Donnell said the flight staff threatened to cancel the passengers’ flights, but they continued standing and expressing their concerns. Eventually, after 90 minutes, Wei was removed from the flight and returned to Villawood.
Reflecting on the actions of the passengers, O’Donnell said she was pleased she had managed to stop Wei’s deportation. “Seven people were able to achieve a small victory — something we didn’t think would actually happen,” she said.
“People need to know that they can peacefully stand up for what they believe in and make a difference — seven ordinary people, not the pilot, not the authorities at the airport.”
Speaking at a snap action to protest the treatment of refugees on Manus Island on January 21, O’Donnell said she believed her actions were representative of the wider Australian public.
“What we are doing is spreading across Australia,” she said. “Together we can do this.”
Wei fled political persecution in China and had applied for a temporary protection visa, which was rejected by immigration officials.
[Jemma Nott is a member of the Refugee Action Coalition and Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance.]