By Norm Dixon
The government has singled out Pacific islanders, particularly from Fiji and Tonga, in a campaign to reduce the number of "illegal" immigrants. The government claims the total number is now over 90,000. While the proportion of islanders in this total is minimal, they are among the most likely to be deported.
Between November and February, 148 Pacific islanders were expelled. Since then many more have been detained.
Immigration officers, often with the help of police, have been engaged in a practice known as "trawling". Islanders are detained in raids on workplaces simply on the basis of their race, on the off-chance of catching "overstayers" among them. The Immigration Department has admitted the raids are undertaken without knowledge of the guilt or otherwise of those being raided. Officials have even raided islanders' homes or homes of their friends.
A recent edition of Pacific Islands Monthly detailed some of these. Police and immigration officials rounded up workers in the cotton fields near Moree in NSW and detained 24 people, mostly from Fiji. In Sydney, 10 Fijian women working in a commercial laundry in Marrickville were hauled in for questioning. In the same suburb, another 12 Fijian nurses and nurses' aides were caught in a raid on a hospital.
Some of those found to be "illegal" immigrants have been in Australia more than 10 years. The singling out of the Pacific islander community by the Immigration Department, headed by the "left-wing" ALP minister Gerry Hand, has caused great fear and misery. Community leaders are seeking legal advice and planning protests in the near future.