The Guardian April 4, 2001


Police State: Federal Police raid 53 homes

by Marcus Browning

The refugee support group Free the Refugees Campaign (FRC) has condemned 
the Federal Police's harassment of supporters of refugees rights in the 
wake of the escape of 14 detainees from Villawood Detention Centre, in 
south-west Sydney. The raids on 53 homes, a number of them the residences 
of people who visit refugees at the Villawood Centre, took place on the 
night of March 26, during which the police harassed and terrorised 
occupants. One refugee advocate said, "It smacks of the police state".

The 14 escapees, seven men, five women and two children, got out by cutting 
through four fences with pliers from construction work at the Centre. 
Arsalan Nazarian, a FRC activist whose home was invaded while he was out, 
described the intimidation experienced by his flatmates.

"The police bashed at the door, totally surprising my flatmates. After 
showing some identification, the police barged in, demanded `where is 
Arsalan?', and started going through the unit.

"They tried to get into a room where a woman flatmate was getting dressed. 
All this happened while two children aged six and eight looked on in shock 
and fear."

Mr Nazarian phoned the local police to express concern, pointing out his 
right as a citizen not to be victimised. When he asked if the police had a 
warrant to search the premises, he was told that "the woman in the house" 
had invited them over.

"It is appalling that refugees are locked up like criminals", said Mr 
Nazarian. "Now those who support refugee rights are also treated as 
criminals. Is it now illegal to support human rights?"

Refugee advocate Marion Le said the raids left people traumatised.

"I thinks that's going beyond what Australians expect in a democratic 
country. It smacks of a police state and I myself would not like to have 
the fact that I visit detention centres held against me and have my home 
open to a raid from immigration officials."

She said the raids were aimed at intimidating people to stop them visiting 
refugee centres.

One of the homes raided was that of ABC radio current affairs presenter 
John Highfield whose wife is a refugee children's advocate at Villawood.

The following day he asked Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock on air if 
"the sweeping powers which are now reaching out into the Australian 
community" were "surely something which Australians cannot be happy with".

Ruddock answered that the government was entitled to deal with refugee 
escapees and "those who help them". Further, "If people are going to leave 
administrative detention unlawfully, it is an offence under our law."

The US-based Australasian Correctional Management runs all the refugee 
detention centres in Australia on contract to the Federal Government. The 
private prison company has a long list of human rights abuses.

Ruddock's bland response falls flat next to Arsalan Nazarian's description 
of the desperate situation of the detainees at Villawood.

"The detention centres are hell holes, holding innocent children, women and 
men, in some cases for several years in prison-like conditions with abuse 
common.

"The government's harsh procedures mean that many deserving refugees are 
told they are to be deported. Just last week, one detainee attempted 
suicide after hearing he was to be deported  we have since heard that 
there is a strong likelihood the deportation has gone ahead.

"Refugees come here for a new life  not continued persecution. Is it any 
wonder they try to escape?"

The FRC believe the escapes, protests, hunger strikes and suicide attempts 
are the direct result of the detention, deportation and traumatic treatment 
inside the detention centres, and that the centres should be closed 
altogether.

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