Villawood detention centre diary

January 19, 2005

Frank Marrinan, Sydney

The police were called in twice to the Villawood immigration detention centre during the first week of January — once by management and once by a detainee.

After a female detention officer and a Chinese woman detainee exchanged blows on January 10, the detainee demanded that the police be called. The clash followed a periodic search of detainees' compartments in the women's compound.

The detainees had vacated their area while the search proceeded. When they returned, the Chinese woman saw that her packet of cotton buds had disappeared and a container of dried fish, a favourite nibble, had been thrown into a rubbish bin.

She challenged one of the officers and an argument developed, which became physical. The detainee says the officer struck her first. The officer claims the detainee hit her first. But the detainee stuck to her story and insisted that the police be called because she had been robbed and assaulted.

To everyone's surprise, the centre's manager Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) called the police and an hour or so later a police officer, described by detainees as a "burly and aggressive" sergeant, arrived.

Another of the detainees acted as an interpreter for the complainant. The police officer berated the woman for not having any cuts or bruises, insisting that therefore she couldn't have been assaulted. On the other hand, he said, the GSL officer did have such marks, so she must have been assaulted.

Where were the GSL officer's scars, asked the interpreter? On the inside of her thigh — a bite mark, was the reply. The interpreter asked the obvious: Did the police officer mean that the detention service officer had removed her slacks during the clash? An angry exchange ensued when the interpreter kept challenging the sergeant.

With considerable loss of face, the sergeant grumbled that there was no evidence of anything and therefore nothing to pursue.

The Chinese community behind the Villawood wire held a meeting the following night, demanding protection from detention service officers.

Police were next at the centre on January 11 for the deportation of a Sudanese man who'd been in detention at Villawood for seven years.

The immigration department and GSL must have been nervous. Detainees say a large party of detention officers, reinforced by police, turned up long after dinner and took "Koogali" into custody. It was the police, say the detainees, who packed up the man's belongings and dragged them out to the departure gate.

Why, the detainees wondered, was it done late at night and why was he allegedly sent to Perth?

The usual wave of fear and depression ran through the centre, continuing into the next day. Detainees wondered why there had been so many detention officers and why the police had been involved.

Overkill sends a strong message to the others and a heightened sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. For Koogali, this was the end of seven years' detention in an Australian prison.

From Green Left Weekly, January 19, 2005.
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