People, Travel

Australian visa crackdown plan cancelled after outrage

Australian visa crackdown plan cancelled after outrageAustralian visa crackdown plan cancelled after outrage

Australia’s border protection agency has sparked outrage with a snap announcement it would carry out visa checks on the streets of Melbourne.

Australian Border Force (ABF) said its officers would be checking for visa fraud as part of a general crime crackdown involving several agencies.

But the move sparked a social media outcry, with fears of harassment and racial profiling.

Victoria Police then said Operation Fortitude had been cancelled.

A scheduled press conference was also cancelled as dozens of people gathered in the heart of Melbourne to protest against the operation.

The initial statement from the ABF said a “diverse team of transport and enforcement agencies” would be operating in Melbourne on Friday and Saturday night.

“Officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with,” said regional commander Don Smith.

“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.”

Word of the plan spread like wildfire on social media and there were calls for a snap protest outside the Flinders Street train station.

The ABF later issued a “clarifying statement” on its plans, saying: “[We] will not be ‘stopping people at random’ in Melbourne to ‘check people’s papers’ as reported in media.

“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.”

Police have since cancelled the entire multi-agency operation.

“Victoria Police has made a decision not to go ahead with this weekend’s Operation Fortitude,” it said.

“We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern, which has been taken into consideration when making this decision.”

The Federal Government spent $10 million Australian ($7.7m; £4.6m) in branding the months-old Border Force with a new hardline image, local media this week reported.

It includes new military-style uniforms and signs at airports and detention centers.