A controversial police operation to crack down on migrants and illegal immigrants due to start this weekend in Australia has been scrapped in the wake of public outcry.
"You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it's only a matter of time before you're caught out," said Don Smith the Australian Border Force (ABF) commander in Victoria ahead of Operation Fortitude.
As part of the operation, ABF officers were due to be positioned in teams throughout the central area of Melbourne, Smith said, picking out and "speaking with any individual we cross paths with". Visas would be checked, and anyone suspected of being in the country illegally would be rounded up and potentially deported.
Ahead of a press conference scheduled for 2pm where the ABF said they would clarify details of the operation, protesters began gathering to oppose the operation. "No border farce" and "We experience racism everyday. Stop racism now" were some of the messages on placards seen in the large crowd that gathered at Melbourne's Flinders Street Station where the event was to have been held.
— Australia Trends (@australizer) August 28, 2015
Then the Victoria Police Force promptly cancelled the whole thing. "The Victoria Police has made a decision not to go ahead with this weekend's Operation Fortitude," read a statement on the force's Facebook page. "We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern which has been taken into consideration when making this decision".
In early 2015 Australia was accused in a United Nations report of violating the international Convention Against Torture for holding children in immigration detention, and detaining asylum seekers in dangerous and violent conditions on Manus Island north of Australia, off the shore of Papua New Guinea.
— Jarryd (@Straffo) August 28, 2015
Operation Fortitude, which had been billed to involve the city's Victoria Police, Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff's Office and the Taxi Services Commission, was also supposed to be on the lookout for outstanding warrants and other anti-social behaviour.
Later the ABF commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg said the characterisation of the border force's involvement had been "clumsily worded" and "misconstrued".
The local Victorian Government said that they supported the decision to cancel the operation "after the unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force today".
The ABF is a brand new agency established by Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott on 1 July 2015 after merging the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and parts of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.