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Operation Fortitude aftershocks


Maribyrnong Immigration Detention CentreThe aftershocks of Operation Fortitude continue to be felt. According to a Fairfax Media report, the Australian Border Force, its dog squad and the Serco Emergency Response Team transferred 30 people from Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre at 2.30 am on Friday 28 August.

At 7.00 the same morning, officers began to search of all the other people detained there. The Herald-Sun, which had also been given a photo of the search, reported that some drug equipment was found.

A spokesman for the Department denied that the two actions were linked, or that the removals were planned to make room for people identified through Operation Fortitude. It refused to comment on other matters for security and operational reasons.

Even though some details of the story, such as terror and handcuffing, are unverifiable, the broad outline provides insight into the life of people held in Detention Centres and into the Australian Border Force at work there. What it reveals is disturbing.

Strictly speaking, detention centres are not jails in which people are punished with the deprivation of freedom because they have committed a crime. In Immigration Detention Centres, people are held while they await processing of their claims for protection or their removal from Australia. Detention is not punitive but administrative in character.

Three main groups of people are held in Immigration Detention Centres. Some people have sought protection from persecution and are awaiting the adjudication of their cases.

Others have breached the condition of their visas, including asylum seekers on bridging visas. Many visitors to Australia, too, have remained in Australia after their visas expired, some working in order to remit funds to their families for education and another purposes.

The final group comprises people without Australian citizenship who have been found guilty of criminal offences. If their offence is sufficiently serious, they are liable to deportation. After they have paid their debt to society in prison, they are immediately detained for removal to their country of birth. Many, who have been in Australia for quite a number of years, or who have families here, are held in Immigration Detention Centres for a considerable time while their appeal is being heard.

None of these people is locked up as a punishment for crime. Their detention and loss of freedom is for administrative convenience, to ensure they are available for deportation. Their situation is analogous to that of people forced to stay in a quarantine station after return from a plague affected place.

There are difficulties in managing such places. The natural frustration and resentment at being incarcerated for a long time without just cause inevitably sometimes finds expression in anti-social behaviour. But the conditions under which people are held should still reflect their non-criminal status.

Against that background, the actions taken in the Detention Centre are concerning. They represent the use of force and intimidation on people who are being detained, not for their misdeeds or any threat they pose, but for the convenience of the Department in removing them. And they disclose what happens when ABF officers are permitted to to use any force they think necessary without proper accountability, and where immigration officials and ministers may freely conceal on operational grounds what is done to people under their responsibility.

Does this matter? If we look at it through the eyes of people who are eager to punish their enemies, it may not seem to matter at all. But if we look at it through the eyes of people who have escaped from a security state in which paramilitary forces can rape and murder with impunity, it may matter a great deal. They would certainly find it familiar to be awoken at the unmanning, vulnerable hour when secret police come, to see dark clad figures with their dogs crash in, to be guiltily relieved when other people are handcuffed, led away and disappeared to other gulags, to be locked down and searched at dawn, and to have photographs placed in the tabloid press next day.

If we look at it through our own eyes, it would be a cause for shame if, after the raid, the people who had escaped from one security state recognised with appalled clarity that they had found themselves in another. If after the raid they made their own Nadezhda Mandelstam's words as she was sent into exile in Stalin's Russia,

That evening I had lost everything, even despair. There is a moment of truth when you are overcome by sheer astonishment: 'So that's where I'm living, and the sort of people I'm living with! So this is what they're capable of! So this is the world I live in!' We are so stupefied that we even lost the power to scream. It was this sort of stupefaction, with the consequent loss of all criteria, standards and values, that came over people when they first landed in prison and suddenly realised the nature of the world they lived in and what the 'new era' really meant.

It would surely matter if good people were suddenly forced into the recognition of what 'border security' really meant.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is a consulting editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, immigration detention, asylum seekers, Australian Border Force, Operation Fortitude



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Existing comments

What would be even better is if someone could tell us how a stamp on a piece of paper protects anyone from anything.

Marilyn | 06 September 2015  

Thank you Andrew, As usual with this issue, your commentary is disturbing reading. What concerns me is the veil of secrecy thrown over the whole issue of so called illegal arrivals.

Gavin | 07 September 2015  

Andrew, your words of despair in the second last paragraph resonate strongly with me. what do we do? no one will hear the screams of you or me or someone in detention when 70% of the Australian population has no problem with the current system. we will join the parade to bomb Syria under the guise that it will help fix something we as a nation participated in creating - the vacuum in Iraq leading to ISIS's ability to run riot. the sheer cheek of ALP and LNP to continue to promote a climate of fear of the other propels us further down the road to perdition.

Lawrence Wray | 07 September 2015  

well said! When will this 'Security Sate's' black-shirts come for us?

Eugene | 07 September 2015  

Thanks Andrew, for informing us of some of the shenanigans conducted out of sight, purportedly in our names.

David Arthur | 07 September 2015  

Operation Fortitude Aftershock's article is based According to a Fairfax Media report. Fairfax Media together with the ABC are far left wings. They will say anything or do anything to destroy our Liberal / National Federal Government.

Ron Cini | 07 September 2015  

With the emergence of this new organisation I couldn't help thinking of law enforcement via the FBI under J Edgar Hoover.

Paddy Byers | 10 September 2015  

Thankyou Andy for raising this brutal raid. All but two men were handcuffed as they were transported from Melbourne to Perth then onto Christmas Island after plane refuelled. All this time they were handcuffed and restrained in seats by brute guards. Some men had interviews with immigration for their process in the following week, some had court cases as part of their process. They were seemingly randomly selected- asylum seekers, post prison non citizens and overstayers. Men with families, fiancées and children in Melbourne were taken away without warning. Their families left to ring advocates begging to find out what happened and where their loved ones had gone as BorderForce refusing to say. Melbourne people had a victory in stopping the Borderforce excess on the streets but people in detention have no Rights to stop the excess violence to which they are subjected.

Pamela | 11 September 2015  

Criminals who have served their time should not await deportation in the same facility as people who have not even been accused of crime. Some of those to be deported are threatening, violent men who terrorise the families held for immigration processing.
I would be interested to know where the tattoo kits, etc., were found. My bet is not many asylum seekers are getting tattooed.
I also suspectthey have fewer avenues for procuring drugs than the convicted criminals.

Juliet | 11 September 2015  

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