[Since first posting this, there have been more developments: see at the foot of the post]

I have received a number of reports about how absurdly difficult it is to visit people in immigration detention in Melbourne.  Bear in mind that the people held in immigration detention have not committed any offence: they are just held in detention for as long as it takes to consider their claim for refugee protection, or for as long as the goons at Border Force think it will take to break them, although they probably check with their boss, Peter Dutton, who has never really stopped being a brainless, heartless Queensland copper.

MITA is the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation at 120-150 Camp Rd, Broadmeadows (in Melbourne’s northern suburbs).

Here is a visitor’s account of the difficulties:

Every week we try to visit, there always seems to be a change in process and seemingly arbitrary tightening of the “rules” for admission to MITA.

This coincides of course with the background new migration legislation proposed, an ominous symptom of which was the deportation in the middle of the night of a man from MITA [recently]. We visited that day and noticed the subdued tone of the visiting centre – already reduced to a shadow of the freedom and hospitality it unto recently was allowed. For example, there are no comfortable chairs now, only spartan tables and strict policing of the number of seats allowed at those tables.

These are just some of the ever-tightening and dehumanizing regime we have witnessed. One positive is that our students have witnessed these things.

To cut a long story short, Border Force has now had to approve school visits. But even that wasn’t enough. We now have to print out a form every time, with the risk that we may not be let in, miss out, or undergo the mind-numbing, expanding logistical headaches of taking students to the centre. If we say they are 17 y.o., then they can be questioned. If they say they are 18, then we somehow have to get forms printed out for them to fill in and sign. Still no guarantee. If we miss out, we have to do it all again. The delays that Border Force makes makes us miss out. We have discerned that the detainees look forward to this contact and understand graciously the purpose of bringing (senior) students along. Normally we travel there in groups of 5-7.

The latest blockage I am sharing with you – emails from ABF. … When I finally organized the forms of visiting teachers, the email wouldn’t ge through, because the attachment was too large!

As I joke, with English teacher’s perspective: Kafka is alive and well at MITA and Border Force!

The above are just the tip of the iceberg of the creeping dehumanizing. For the detainees … it hardly bears contemplating…

I set our below some email exchanges between would-be visitors and Border Force.  For those whose minds go numb reading emails from Officialdom, the Border Force emails decode as something like this:

“We hate you and we hate that you are trying to bring comfort to the innocent people we lock up, so we are just going to fuck you around until you give up…”

An email chain between a teacher and Border Force to set up a visit by the teacher and some senior students in early November went like this:

Teacher to Border Force: I would like to request that the following people [named]… be permitted to visit [named detainees] on …November

Border Force to Teacher: In order to process your visit application the authorising delegate requires the following forms to be completed and submitted for each person attending … [asks if anyone is under 18]

Teacher to Border Force:  We have been visiting detention for the past 3 years with students.  I have always filled out this form on arrival.  I do not understand why this process is being added.  Particularly without warning.  Particularly when it means that we can not visit today.  We have permission from the Department of Immigration to visit.  We are not an official visitor. … Can I please have a telephone number that I can reach you on.

Teacher to Border Force: I have now spoken with Patrick Gallagher from Canberra.

I request the following please: an explanation of why we are an official visit.  I have copied in an email from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that clearly states that we are not an official visit.  I would like clarification.

I also seek clarification about why I can no longer visit the detention centre on my own.  I have done this often in the past, in addition to times that I have brought students to the detention centre and as I was planning to visit on this Thursday I would like to be able to do this.  MITA is not allowing me to book a visit.  Can you please clarify why this is occurring?  I would great appreciate your intervention here so that I can visit.

Border Force to Teacher: Under the current settings within the Immigration Detention Network, visits from organisations such as yours are categorised as official visits and must be treated as such.  There has been a significant amount of change within out Immigration Detention environment that explains the changes in the visits protocol since the attached 2014 email was written.

Here is an email from my colleague, to Border Force to set up a visit:

I would like to book a table of six for next Thursday 17th November, for the 6-8pm visit session:

AB (teacher – myself); CD (student); EF (student) 

GH (detainee); JK (detainee); LM (detainee) 

Could you kindly arrange this for us please?

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

Here is the reply:

In order to process your visit application the authorising delegate requires the following forms to be completed and submitted by each visitor:

Please note that we require at least seven days’ notice to process a visit application. Please send your visit request along with relevant completed forms to detention.visits@border.gov.au

For further information please go to http://www.border.gov.au/Busi/Comp/Immigration-detention/visiting-a-facility

Kind regards

MITA VISITS TEAM

T: +61 3 9280 6105

120-150 Camp Road

Broadmeadows VIC 3047

I like the “Kind Regards”.  Somehow, any trace of kindness is completely absent.

Another person, who is a friend of my colleague, tried to set up a visit for members of her refugee support group.  She got this from Border Force:

I thank you for your email.

Under the current settings within the Immigration Detention Network, visits from organisations such as yours are categorised as official visits and must be treated as such.  There has been a significant amount of change within out Immigration Detention environment that explains the changes in the visits protocol since the attached 2014 email was written.

It appears that you are aware of the current visit request protocols that are in place setting out the requirements for you and your organisation to visit.  If you would like clarification re the process please advise and I will set out the procedures that need to be followed to accommodate your request. …

* * * * * * *

As noted above, there have been more developments since I first posted this.  I have received the following update:

…since you posted the blog, we have had more stuffing around. We have missed out now on several visits (for which our Year 12 students had been waiting all year for), the latest for both Thursday and Friday because of the absurd requests for yet more paperwork, yet more paperwork, yet more “processing time”, because we have to wait “7 days” to be processed…..yet we have to book 7 days in advance otherwise we will miss out on the limited number of tables available! We have to fill out virtually identical forms every time. It takes a lot of goodwill from fellow teachers, all of whom are already saddled with excessive workloads – not to mention paperwork and duty of care at this end whenever we cross the street, let alone go to MITA!!

It also needs to be stressed how much we bend over backwards to accommodate the protocols and processes, which literally are changing every week.

Our project, like [another teacher’s similar project], has a deep process of discernment and reflection behind it, as one would expect with our spiritual motivations for the visits to MITA. The decision to give moral support to our innocent friends locked up in the gulag (many of whom are profoundly affected mentally and emotionally but always put on their best, hospitable faces for our group, treating the students especially with graciousness) has not been taken lightly. As you saw, our language and diplomacy are a given. Occasionally, there is a gem of an individual staffer at MITA. They too are under incredible pressure from above – from the heartless Qld copper ultimately. But week to week, we experience knock backs for one procedural delay or another.

The latest experience this week was a “vetting” conversation with an official from Border Force. The person on the phone asked me about half a dozen questions….do we have links with other schools?….what’s the purpose of our visits….motives?…have you any projects a part of it…..(no projects, no agendas, just a friendly face and moral support)…have you any visitors under 18….we need to respect the privacy of our clients….how will you do that….etc. etc.This phone conversation, which involved the officer taking notes, came after we had already been given approval!!

Are we living is a dystopian, post-Brave New World imitation of normality?  Has the Donald J Trump tide swept across our shores already?

At least we should be grateful for dedicated teachers like AB and CD who are willing to keep on trying, despite all thepassive-aggressive resistance put up by bureaucrats.