Refugee advocates are alarmed at the spate of politically motivated decisions by Immigration Department officers barring visits to detention centres.

In the last week, Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition has been barred from visiting Villawood detention centre; Senator Lee Rhiannon’s visit, today’ (Friday), to the residential housing compound of Villawoood was abruptly curtailed, and on Thursday night at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation a Harmony Day dinner inside the detention centre was ended and visitors asked to leave when Immigration Department officers accused visitors of being involved in a passive protest.

“Not content with policing the lives of asylum seekers, the Department of Immigration is using its powers to try to censor and control the actions of visitors to the detention centres,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“These arbitrary decisions are an outrageous assault on the democratic rights of visitors, refugee supporters and on the rights of the asylum seekers themselves to have access to community support. This is something straight out of 1984. It is a thinly disguised attempt to exclude and censor critics of mandatory detention from the detention centres.

“Serco and Immigration have long wielded arbitrary powers against asylum seekers with impunity, now they want that power to extend beyond the razor wire. These exclusions are no coincidence. It is clear that the bureaucratic exclusions have the approval of the Minister,” said Rintoul.

“In my case the Director of Detentions Operations, Steve Karras took a decision that my presumed participation in a protest at the gates of Villawood was reason enough to exclude me from the detention centre. The fact that there was no protest does not bother Mr Karras – his decision is law in the detention centre.

“Steve Karras has stated that presenting Aboriginal passports to refugees at Villawood meant the visit was ‘not for a proper purpose’. This is an arbitrary and politically driven decision and a complete violation of democratic rights

“Today, officers of the Immigration Department manufactured phoney appointments with doctors as an excuse to cut short Senator Lee Rhiannon’s visit to the residential housing compound. Again this was thinly veiled attempt to remove a detention critic from contact with refugees.

“But ending the Harmony Day dinner, which has been sponsored by the Moreland City Council and other community groups for the second year is the height of bureaucratic shortsightedness. What better was to create distress and discontent for asylum seekers and refugees inside the detention centres than for the Immigration Department to exclude the people who support them? ”

“The Minister has to come clean – is he establishing a new detention regime by stealth or has the power of the bureaucrats controlling the detentions, gone to their heads? Either way, the punitive bureaucratic exclusions have to end.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

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