Panel 10: Enterprise Becomes a Detention Centre
The first detainees at Enterprise were 3 women and children who arrived in July 1988 from Iran. They had been held at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre for the previous three months and had been transferred to Enterprise in response to community objections about the oppressive conditions the children were living under at Maribyrnong.
On 4th April 1990 118 Cambodian “boat people” from The Beagle arrived at Enterprise from Broome. They had been at sea for 21 days and had not been able to wash since they landed. St Vincent de Paul and Sr Kath Ragg provided them with clothing and toiletries. In the sixteen months they were there the Cambodians were not allowed to leave Enterprise without permission.
Cambodian welfare workers from the Springvale Indo Chinese Mutual Assistance Association and the Springvale Community Aid & Advice Bureau, were seconded to work at Enterprise to assist the Cambodians with general daily needs such as permission to leave the premises for medical appointments and shopping. They were also responsible for recreation programs. One of the workers organised English classes but these were stopped two weeks later because detainees were not entitled to English tuition.
In August 1991 eleven of the detainees failed to report back after leaving Enterprise. Despite local community outrage all the detainees were suddenly sent to the Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. A few were granted refugee status. After many months the Immigration Minister, Gerry Hand, decided to send the rest back to Cambodia.
In all the Cambodians had spent nearly four years in detention. They were told if they returned to Cambodia, remained there for one year then applied for Australian residency, their applications would be successful- on the proviso they paid their own fare. Most of them did – re-entering Australia as permanent residents.
“It was a waste of four years of my life. I don’t know why they did it. It had been my ambition to be a teacher but I don’t know whether I’ll make it. Who has gained from all this?” - ‘Koeum’, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Jan, 1998
“We were appalled at some staff, whose attitude was that the Cambodians were smelly and badly behaved. Actually they tried to jump the queue only because they were so desperate for soap to make themselves clean." - Leila Rheinberger, hostel volunteer
“At the daily rollcall I would be told “No he’s just gone out. He’ll be back.” So I gave them until the afternoon before making any reports. It was heartbreaking work but we had to follow the rules.” -Rakha Leas, Cambodian welfare worker
“My stay in the Enterprise was ended at dawn raid. I did not have time to farewell my friends, pack my belongings, wash my face or even brush my teeth.”- Eath Chhun, Cambodian detainee
“As the buses drove away from Enterprise with all the detainees on board ‘we were all crying. We couldn’t talk to them we could only wave." - Erika Stahr, support worker
“They were not allowed to take their belongings with them. Their victimisation continued in Australia." - Lorraine Chessels Maternal and Child Health Nurse
Top Photo: The arrival of the Cambodians at enterprise was widely reported.