Australian Border Force are in damage control this evening after Melbourne’s CBD was brought to a standstill by protestors rallying against a planned Visa crackdown in Melbourne this weekend.
The snap-action rally was called after the Department of Immigration & Border Protection released a statement announcing ‘Operation Fortitude’ saying they would be “targeting everything from anti-social behaviour to outstanding warrants”.
The statement outlined plans for ABF officers to be “positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with”.
The initiative was set to involve a number of agencies in Melbourne including Metro Trains, Taxi Services Commission, PTV and the Border Force to improve safety of the city.
Following the press release, #BorderForce trended across social media as many expressed outrage at the decision.
ME: I’m an Australian citizen. BORDER FORCE: oh yeah? sing the theme to Burke’s Backyard ME: uhhh
— colley (@JamColley) August 28, 2015
— PatriciaKarvelas (@PatsKarvelas) August 28, 2015
Immigration are checking for visas in Melb city this weekend. When I get randomly selected, I’m giving them this: pic.twitter.com/zuBWJDDnAP
— Nazeem Hussain (@nazeem_hussain) August 28, 2015
Look at it this way… we all needed a good laugh this week #BorderForce
— Laura Tingle (@latingle) August 28, 2015
ABF planned to launch the initiative with representatives from all agencies involved at 2pm this afternoon on the steps of Flinders Street Station before protestors derailed proceedings.
After moving on to the intersection of Swanston and Flinders street protestors blocked traffic for half an hour before frustrated motorists were waved through by police.
Up to 20 trams were delayed before the rally moved inside Flinders Street Station with some protestors jumping Myki barriers to make their way on to the concourse.
— Catalyst Magazine (@rmitcatalyst) August 28, 2015
50 minutes after the conference was due to start the department was forced to withdraw it’s plans for a press conference and the operation itself reissuing a statement declaring they had not intended to “stop people at random”.
In a clarifying statement released shortly after a spokesperson for ABF said “The ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets and does not target on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity”.
Victoria Police also issued a written statement saying they “will continue to work with our partner agencies” as their priority is the “safety and wellbeing of the whole community”.
After completing a “victory lap” of Flinders Street station protest leaders declared they “will be back” to continue fighting the Abbott government, offshore detention, closure of remote communities and capitalism.
The rally has made headlines across the world and has been labelled as a ‘win’ by protesters in attendance.
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) August 28, 2015
A time for a follow up press conference from the ABF is yet to be announced.