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.