Immigration detainees transferred from Melbourne to Christmas Island amid heated protests

The Australian Border Force has confirmed the transfer of 12 immigration centre detainees to Christmas Island, 24-hours after a heated clash between police and protesters outside a Melbourne detention centre on Tuesday.

Guardian Australia understands that 12 detainees, including one person whose refugee status has been approved, were woken by guards at the Melbourne International Transit Accommodation centre early yesterday morning and told they would be moved to Christmas Island.

The border force did not respond to questions on Tuesday and released a one-line statement early Wednesday, dicho: “The ABF does not comment on the details of specific operational matters.”

On Wednesday afternoon, it said the group being transferred had their right to remain in the country revoked under section 501 of the Migration Act, which allows the minister to cancel a visa on character grounds.

“The cohort being transferred is made up of detainees whose visas have been cancelled due to being a risk to the community, and includes those convicted of serious crimes relating to assault, illicit drugs, robbery, domestic violence and other offences,” the border force statement said.

“Detainees are transferred between facilities to balance the detainee population and security risk.”

The Morrison government reopened the Christmas Island detention centre in August 2020. There are about 212 people held in detention on Christmas Island, 90 of whom had their visas revoked by the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton.

At least one of those transferred on Tuesday has had their refugee status recognised but was put back in detention after their visa was revoked, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said. They are challenging that decision through the courts in Victoria. Their lawyer was not notified of their transfer.

Another detainee, who immigrated to Australia at three months old and had his visa revoked under section 501, but who remains in the centre, said that more than 20 guards went to the unit before 5am to tell the selected detainees to pack their bags.

“We have asked them to let us know the day before – in prison they let you know the day before,” the detainee said. “Just so people can let their family or their lawyers know. But they don’t.”

The transfer was temporarily blocked by protesters who surrounded a minibus outside the centre yesterday to prevent it from leaving. The detainees were then placed in another larger bus and taken away.

Victorian senator Lidia Thorpe attended the protest and was filmed telling the police confronting protesters that they were “an absolute disgrace”.

“How dare you treat people like that?” Thorpe said, in a video shared on her social media accounts. “How dare you manhandle women like you did?"

Thorpe said in a statement on Wednesday that she was there in solidarity with activists and detainees, and that activists have the right to protest without being confronted by police.

A spokesperson for Victoria police said police were asked to go to the Broadmeadows detention centre about 11.30am to allow immigration centre staff “safe egress from the venue” through a crowd of 20 manifestantes.

“OC spray was used after a small number of protestors failed to comply with lawful directions,”Dijo el portavoz. “These people were treated by paramedics at the scene.”

They said police arrested one person who allegedly glued herself to one of the buses, and impounded a car belonging to another person who police allege was driving with a suspended licence. Police say they expect she will be charged on summons for traffic offences.

“Investigators will continue to review CCTV footage of the incident and there may be further charges,”Dijo el portavoz.

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