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‘Operation Fortitude’ and what it could have meant for international students

Dea Putra

Fri Sep 04 2015

FOLLOWING the cancellation of the controversial “Operation Fortitude”, we speak to several international students to get their opinions over the Australian Border Force’s cancelled visa fraud crackdown in Melbourne’s CBD. Dea Putra reports.

What was intended to be a city-wide crackdown on visa fraud and anti-social behaviour quickly became the target of scrutiny as organised protests and online criticism led to the swift cancellation of the Australian Border Force’s “Operation Fortitude” late last week.

A combined effort from the ABF, Victoria Police, and public transport officers, the operation had been planned to take place between August 27 to August 28. Officers were to be stationed on streets targeting suspected individuals travelling to, from, and in the CBD.

Despite reassurance from the ABF that it would not have targeted individuals “on the basis of race, religion, and ethnicity”, the cancelled operation could potentially have weighed heavily against Victoria’s international student community.

Council of International Students Australia (CISA)’s National President, Mustika Indah Khairina, felt questions were worth raising in the fallout of the operation.

“Despite the operation being cancelled, CISA believes that the initiative of the plan involves discriminatory factors and demands an apology,” contends Ms Khairina.

“How would you conduct the operation? Why was it needed? Had the operation went through, what kind of signals are we trying to send to the international community?”

Ms Khairina added that most international students come to Australia legally, and praised Melbourne for being quick to act.

“Let’s not spark confusions or tensions and continue to embrace the amazing diversity that Australia has. Most Melburnians are amazing people, so it came as no surprise to us that they immediately jumped into the matter and successfully cancelled the operation within the same day. We sincerely hope the ABF, Victorian Government and the institutions who were involved can justify why such an initiative was deemed necessary in the first place.”

Other international students also echoed a similar sentiment.

“I was so upset by the whole thing,” said Sangita Rajandran, a student from Singapore. “I felt so violated, and I thought I was living in a war-torn country.”

“I feel even worse knowing that there are some 20,000 Aussies living in Singapore, and we would never subject them to anything like this.”

Sangita also expressed doubt that officers would not check people based on their skin colour, and believed news of the operation might discourage new students from coming to Australia.

“Which parent would want to send their child to Australia after this?” Sangita asked.

Thao, a student from Vietnam, thinks that it’s a shame that an operation could damage Melbourne’s reputation.

“[A] few weeks ago, [Melbourne] was excited to be the most livable city in the world for the fifth time and not long after that they launched [this] policy,” Thao said.

“On one hand, I feel threatened because bumping into an official and being questioned is a frightening scenario that I never want to experience. I’m not white and don’t have blonde hair, so I might be at high risk of paper-checking.”

Not everyone is too fussed about this operation, however.

“I see it as a slight inconvenience,” said Audi, a University of Melbourne student.

“I don’t think this will deter people or potential students from coming [to Australia].”

Despite these thoughts, Audi is still unsure that an operation like this could have effectively reduced crime in society.

“I don’t see how this will help achieve the government’s goal because people are clearly unhappy about it… I’m glad that the people in Melbourne are standing up for this.”

Travis, a concerned Australian citizen, said in defense of migrants and international students that they “are not a threat to public safety”.

If you think you are facing trouble regarding your visa and immigration status, seek advice from your university’s legal representative or talk to a migration lawyer.