The combined forces of the Australian Border Force (ABF), police officers, and transport officers will be positioning themselves in different strategic locations around the Melbourne central business district this weekend in an effort to clamp down on visa fraud through a project called Operation Fortitude.
The operation is the first inter-agency project that the ABF will be participating in. “We’re proud to be able to support each of our organisations to achieve the common mission of promoting a secure and cohesive society here in Melbourne,” ABF Regional Commander Don Smith says.
By the evening of Friday, August 28, the ABF will be joined by the Victoria Police, the Sheriff’s Office, the Taxi Services Commission, Metro Trains, and Yarra Trams as they look around and observe the different people traveling to and around the CBD. Officers will be randomly speaking to any individuals they come across with, searching for anything from antisocial behaviour to outstanding warrants.
Visa holders are also advised to be well aware of the conditions of the visa they hold. Smith advises those who are knowingly committing visa fraud that it is only a matter of time before they are caught.
Human Rights Advocates Fear the Worst
Because of circumstances surrounding the operation, human rights advocates voiced out their concerns. One of the biggest fears is that racial profiling might be used as a means to justify who will be questioned in the series of on-the-spot interviews. This, they fear, would start the militarisation of the country’s immigration system.
“That means they’ll be looking for people who appear foreign and do not speak English well,” human rights barrister Julian Burnside says, “That’s alarming.”
The Australian Border Force was only launched in July, and is a combination of the Australian Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Immigration. ABF officers evidently have more powers compared to regular immigration or customs officials, and are allowed to carry guns and are also given the power to detain groups and individuals.
Based on the ABF officers’ powers, they have the power to detain anyone who they suspect to be an unlawful non-citizen. Anyone suspected should be able to produce evidence to the contrary.
However, Burnside points out that nothing in the Border Force Act states that officers can ask people to produce visas on the spot. An ABF spokesman clarifies the concern and says that they will actually be able to check on those details electronically, which means that the visa need not be presented.
An associate in Maurice Blackburn’s social justice practice, Katie Robertson, agrees with Burnside’s sentiments. “They are using resources for this instead of processing the visas of 30,000 people waiting right within the Australian community,” she says, ”Their resources and time should be used more productively.”
Special thanks to TheGuardian for the main image.