Ferrovial, the Spain-based multinational company that city officials hope to partner with in a $1.8-billion effort to renovate Denver International Airport and expand its concession operations, has a hand in numerous high-profile transportation projects and airport-management operations around the globe, from overseeing four major airports in Great Britain to collecting tolls on the LBJ Expressway in Texas.
But as Denver City Council members pore over the complicated deal with Ferrovial to transform DIA, there's at least one corner of the new partner's far-flung empire that hasn't attracted much comment: Ferrovial's involvement in operating two offshore refugee camps for the government of Australia, which have been denounced by Amnesty International as "islands of despair."
Australia established immigration "processing" centers on the remote islands of Nauru and Manus dating back to 2001; they are regarded by human-rights groups as among the harshest refugee detention camps in existence. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse, unhealthy conditions and a high suicide rate have dogged the operation for years, prompting immigrant advocacy groups to petition the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to condemn the camps.
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Last year Ferrovial acquired a majority interest in the Australian company Broadspectrum — which, in addition to energy, utility, defense, property and transportation interests, manages the camps for the government. Ferrovial has announced that it won't renew the contract for the camp when the current one expires later this year; however, that contract has already been extended once by the government, and the company has been lambasted in European media for profiting off the misery of the refugees.
Such issues have received little public attention in the discussion over the future of DIA — which, with its penchant for generating conspiracy theories about underground tunnels and new-world-order plotters, as well as interminable security lines and transportation breakdowns, sometimes seems to be morphing into a detention facility itself (albeit one with free wi-fi). But Denver councilman Rafael Espinoza says he raised a concern about Ferrovial's involvement in the Australian camps "early on" in discussions about the DIA proposal.
"I was told that the [detention camp contract] would not be renewed, but it was still a decision they made," Espinoza says. "It demonstrates how far they will go to make a buck and preserve a deal, and that buying and selling assets are part of their business model — so a thirty-year deal with Ferrovial may not be with Ferrovial, but its successors. More reason to develop these changes without a [private] partner."
City council has scheduled a public hearing on the DIA project for next Monday evening, August 14. The city is facing a September 1 deadline for approving the contract with Ferrovial or walking away — and paying the company a $9 million fee for services rendered.