MANAGEMENT

Melbourne University urged to drop security contractor over refugee issue

SOURCE: Peter Parks/AFP
Protesters march in Sydney to urge the Australian government to end the refugee crisis on Manus Island on November 4, 2017.

Melbourne University has confirmed its executives will meet with activists urging the school to sever all financial ties with Wilson Security over its involvement in the Manus Island and Nauru refugee offshore processing centres.

A spokesperson for the university said in a statement last Friday to Guardian Australia:

“The university’s vice-president (administration and finance) and chief operating officer Allan Tait will be meeting with representatives of the Rise group to discuss the open letter and to understand their concerns.”

It is not immediately known when and where the meeting will take place.

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The university was responding to a June 14 open letter from over 200 staff and academics that was published in support of a campaign by Rise, an advocacy group in Australia representing over 30 refugee, asylum seeker and ex-detainee communities across the country. Among those that signed the letter are former human rights commissioner Professor Gillian Triggs, and author Professor Tony Birch.

In the letter, signatories urged Melbourne University to join other institutions in divesting from companies contracted by the Australian government to help run the controversial detention camps.

It accused Wilson Security, a private security firm in Australia, of profiting off the suffering of refugees sent to Nauru and Manus Island, where there have been numerous reports and inquiries concerning deaths, torture and sexual abuse of those incarcerated.

“Australia has been a world leader in refugee detention torture for almost 30 years and this has been made possible by companies such as Wilson being allowed to operate with impunity, bring in enormous profits and escape accountability.

“Wilson Security has actively chosen to participate in and enforce our communities torture and abuse in detention and should be held accountable and not allowed to continue to profit by organisations like Melbourne University who have made commitments to anti-discrimination,” it added.

Wilson Security has for years provided security for the government in the two detention centres. According to Guardian Australia, the firm and its staff have been accused several times of poor conduct, including a claim in 2015 when three were accused of drugging and gang-raping a local female staff member.

In 2015, two of its former guards accused the company of covering up malpractice in Nauru and providing information to mislead the Australian Parliament.

In recent years, several organisations have cut ties with companies over their involvement in the offshore processing regime, including the National Gallery of Victoria, the University of Newcastle and Sydney Biennale.

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A spokesman for Rise, Abdul Baig, told Guardian Australia that companies like Wilson Security should not be allowed to continue profiting off the refugee processing centres.

“Survivors of detention centres should not be subjected to being policed by their abusers in an educational institution such as Melbourne University,” he was quoted saying.

“As ex-detainees, we would like to see educational institutions and public service organisations not to be complicit with any security company such as Wilson Security and Serco, who abuses people in torture camps both offshore and onshore.”