Yesterday (Friday) a remarkable thing happened in Melbourne. Thousands (?) of people took to the streets with only an hour’s notice and stopped officers from the newly-formed Australian Border Force from racially profiling people in the streets to see if they were visa over-stayers. The ABF were made fools of and the debacle made news worldwide (here’s the BBC coverage) – further details below in Section ‘A’. Meanwhile, we issue a challenge – see Section ‘B’ below – to Transfield, the company managing the offshore asylum-seeker detention facilities and update on abuses.
A. Operation Fortitude
A press release at 10.14 am announced that during Friday and on the following day there would be a combined operation – Operation Fortitude – involving the ABF (Australian Border Force), Victoria Police, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff’s Office and the Taxi Services Commission. According to the press release the operation was aimed at anti-social behaviour, but a separate Border Force statement on the Operation warned visa over-stayers: “You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it’s only a matter of time before you’re caught out”. The press release gave advance warning that the the operation would commence from Flinders Street Station at 2pm. This announcement was like a red rag to a bull and almost immediately news of the operation hit social media, setting Twitter ablaze.
Within less than an hour of a call being issued for a protest thousands of people opposed to this clearly racist endeavour had gathered in the streets of the city leading to the station. By the end of that hour the station was surrounded and the ABF officers, protected by Victorian police and who had been preparing to give a press statement, were forced to retreat inside the station to a sealed-off area, where they wee quarantined. The ABF officers looked angry – for they had been decisively humiliated; made fools of.
— Simon Cullen (@Simon_Cullen) August 28, 2015
At around 2.30pm another statement was released, announcing that the operation had been cancelled. This was a major embarrassment not only for the ABF, but for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which set up and employs the ABF, and for prime minster Tony Abbott, who is widely seen as a fool.
— xBorder (@xBorderOps) August 28, 2015
So, who were the targets of this bizarre operation? The ABF officers could clearly not stop and question everyone on the streets and so they invariably would end up targeting those people whom they suspected of having a visa of some sort. Those people could be on a working visa, or a business visa, or a tourist visa. Presumably the ABF officers hoped to find people who had overstayed their visa. And how exactly would ABF officers decide which people they would stop and question? No doubt the ABF officers would most likely target those people who didn’t fit the Australian stereotype (blonde, blue-eyed, etc) even though the majority of Australian citizens and Permanent Residents do not fit this stereotype. In short, had the ABF officers been allowed to carry out this ridiculous operation, what would then have happened on the streets of central Melbourne is an exercise in, to put it bluntly, racial profiling.
— Michelle Robertson (@shellzzz) August 28, 2015
There would have been mayhem had it not been for the intervention of the good people of Melbourne, who ensured that the reputation of Melbourne as the ‘world’s most liveable city’ remains intact.
The Federal Government subsequently chose to distance itself from the debacle and stated that the operation was approved at a local level. But no one believes that. Indeed, according to a reliable source…
Nor should this victory in Melbourne distract from what is happening re border operations in the wider context (no doubt it will, instead, embolden those who quite rightly are appalled by these cruel operations).
To my fellow tanned Australians, don’t worry. The Border Force will be easy to spot on the streets. Fig. A pic.twitter.com/xQDJQuFV6s
— natalie tran (@natalietran) August 28, 2015
B. Challenge to Transfield
Transfield, the Australian company which manages the dentention facilities at Manus and Nauru, has seen its share prices nose-dive over the last week, largely as a result of divestmest by Hesta, one of Australia’s largest pension fund providers. Hesta has withdrawn its shares from Transfield because of all the bad publicity – via leaks, testimonies etc to a Senate Inquiry – that has emerged over the last few months.
Consequently, Transfield is desperately attempting to retain its remaining sharholders and has taken the unsual step of inviting senior representatives from shareholder companies to go to the detention centres to see for themselves what conditions are like. The offer has yet to be taken up. In the meantime we issue this counter-invitation…
If Transfield genuinely prefers transparency and has nothing to hide (we don’t believe this for one moment) then it should invite the following persons to visit both Manus and Nauru detention centres, unaccompanied, unannounced and without any observation or interference from Wilson security guards:
- The United Nations Rapporteur for Refugees
- A senior figure from Amnesty International
- Representatives from Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
- Senior figures from the International Red Cross
- Senior figures from Doctors For Refugees
- Senior figures from all Australian refugee and asylum-seekers organisations
- Any Australian lawyers who wish to visit the centres
- Any Australian journalists who wish to visit the centres
- Senior figures from the Australian Medical Association
- All those who have made submissions to the International Criminal Court, alleging the Australian Government has committed crimes against humanity in pursuit of its asylum-seekers policy
Of course, Transfield will not agree to such requests because if it did so the results from any such visits would be damning and the recommendation would be that the detention centres should be closed and the entire offshore processing program ended, given that the centres/program contravene a range of international conventions/laws.
The latest scandal to hit the news involves a woman on Manus Island who alleged she was raped by three security guards employed by Wilson Security. The DIBP (Department of Immigration & Border Protection) in consort with Wilson Security immediately removed the guards and flew them back to Australia. The PNG (Papua New Guinea) authorities have since demanded the guards be returned to face questioning and possible charges. The DIBP and Wilson Security have so far refused to agree to this request. The victim has also demanded that the DIBP and Transfield – the company which sub-contracts Wilson to carry out the security operations – instruct Wilson Security to return the three guards to Manus. If either Wilson Security or Transfield or the DIBP refuse these requests, each could be separately or jointly liable to the charge of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
There is also a report from the Guardian that 4 Wilson Security guards used a “cable tie” to handcuff an 8 year-old asylum seeker boy on Nauru as “a joke” (see copy of report below). The incident happened in 2013 but details of it have only just surfaced. The report states: “4 Wilson CSOs [Client Services Officers] tied [the boy’s] hands together using a black cable tie.” The boy was also the alleged victim of sexual assault.