Young refugees denied visas to reunite family

October 19, 2014 | smh

A refugee affected by the changes.

A refugee affected by the changes.

Hundreds of young refugees who arrived in Australia by boat as unaccompanied minors are being denied visas that would reunite them with their families.

Rejection letters began arriving this month. Fairfax Media understands at least two refugees in Melbourne tried to take their own lives after learning of the decision.

Offshore humanitarian processing centres have told lawyers all of the applications will be refused. This means refugees will have to risk their lives to see their families again or wait years to sponsor them in a more restrictive visa category when they become citizens.

The Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minor Consortium estimates there were up to 400 applicants in Victoria alone.

Consortium lawyer Renuka Senanayake said most of the refugees sponsored their mothers because their fathers were killed in their homelands. “They are alone. All their hopes have been built around this,” she said.

All of the refugees are now adults who have waited years for the decision. Most are Hazaras from Afghanistan, with a small number from Sri Lanka and Burma.

Mustafa’s mother and two brothers were refused visas in recent weeks. His family was first separated when the Taliban kidnapped his father, and they fled to Iran. They were separated again when Mustafa was deported back to Afghanistan and also kidnapped by the Taliban.

Mustafa, a Hazara, fears the same might happen to his relatives, who he financially supports from Australia. With no legal status in Iran, they rarely leave their basement home.

“What am I going to do if Iranian authorities catch my family?” he said. “The only thing I want is my family. I’m always hoping that I can live in a safe place with my family.”

Migration agent Denise Gardner said refugees had left their families behind in dangerous circumstances. “There are at least 70 people I have to sit down with and say ‘Sorry there’s nothing to be done for you. You may never see your family again in safety’.”

A number of refusal letters say that the Department of Immigration accepted the refugees’ relatives were subject to significant persecution and had a close family connection with Australia.

They acknowledge that they cannot be settled in any other country but say “Australia does not have the capacity to provide for permanent settlement of all close family proposed applicants at this time.”

Until 2012, refugees could apply to sponsor their relatives for free and only had to prove they were genuinely related.

That year, the visa was scrapped and everyone, except unaccompanied minors, was required to prove their relatives were also refugees, on the recommendation of the expert panel on asylum seekers. In April, the Abbott government retrospectively required unaccompanied minors to do this too.

The expert panel said a backlog of applications was increasing the incentive for boat arrivals and recommended 20,000 places be immediately added to clear it.

In July, the backlog was more than double, with more than 45,000 people hoping their relatives would fill the government’s 5000 places this year.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said it would be “reckless” to change government policy “in response to any form of protest behaviour.”

“The government determined that altering family reunion serves as an incentive for people to apply to enter Australia through the correct channels.”

Another refugee, K, applied for his mother, brothers and sisters to come to Australia four years ago.

One of his brothers was murdered as he was preparing for VCE exams in 2012. He now fears for his sisters in Quetta in Pakistan, with recent news of suicide bombings there.

K, who preferred not to be named, said he felt powerless to protect them now that they have been refused visas: “Anything can happen. Nobody can guarantee (their safety.)”

He had no friends when he first arrived in Australia in 2010, confiding only in the school’s counsellor. Unable to sleep, he used to walk to a park in the early hours of the morning to cry, he said.

The hardest part of being in a new country, he said, was watching other Hazara students’ parents pick them up from school. “I felt lonely and, I don’t know how to explain it, incomplete.  If you had your parents here, they would support you in every way.”

Next year, when he becomes an Australian citizen and receives his passport, he wants to visit his family with his mother’s permission, despite her warning him it is too dangerous.




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Anniversary of SIEV X sinking a time for reflection

October 19, 2014 | the age

Courageous: Amal Basry was haunted by the sinking of the SIEV X, and the deaths of 353 of her fellow asylum seekers.Courageous: Amal Basry was haunted by the sinking of the SIEV X, and the deaths of 353 of her fellow asylum seekers. Photo: Steve Thomas

The notebook is blue, the spine reinforced with tape. The covers are fraying at the edges. The pages list every person assisted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre since June 2001, the month it was opened. The notebook is full. It contains 7579 names.

Pick any name at random and Kon Karapanagiotidis,  chief executive and founder of the centre, knows the story. A second notebook is now being filled. In the 13 years since the centre opened,  it has helped almost 10,000 people.

Name number 1259 is Amal Basry. She was one of 45 survivors of a capsized fishing boat that became known as SIEV X. Three hundred and fifty-three asylum seekers drowned when the boat sank en route to Christmas Island on October 19, 2001. Amal was rescued after clinging to a corpse for more than 20 hours.

She told the tale of the sinking many times, with  audiences ranging from one listener to a Melbourne town hall packed with more than 2000. She would get out of her sick bed to tell it.  She spoke of the “children like little birds floating on the water”. She was condemned to bear witness. In a cruel irony Amal died of cancer in 2006. Her tale is a reminder of the courage it takes to risk the seas in search of a new life free of oppression.

It is also a reminder of the inhumane treatment by the Abbott government of asylum seekers who continue to undertake the journey. The boats may have stopped, but those who have made it here in recent years are living in hell.

There were many tears shed in Federal Parliament over lives lost at sea, but no tears for those who remain incarcerated in brutal offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus islands. Nor for those imprisoned on Christmas Island and in centres on mainland Australia. No tears for the thousands in community detention and on various forms of bridging visa. No acknowledgement that indefinite detention is a recipe for depression, suicide attempts and insanity. Countless studies have reaffirmed this.

Asylum seekers may no longer be dying at sea, but they are suffering on land. And some are dying on land: Manus Island detainee Reza Barati, beaten to death, and fellow detainee Hamid Kahazaei, a victim of medical neglect. And out on a bridging visa, in community detention, Leo Semmanpillai, who died of self-immolation. In all, more than 30,000  asylum seekers remain in limbo, stripped of hope. Denied a future.

With Coalition government plans to reintroduce temporary protection visas, this uncertainty is set to continue. Even babies born to asylum seekers in Australia are to be deemed unauthorised maritime arrivals. Consider this: of the 45 SIEV X survivors, those who were resettled in other countries immediately received permanent residency. It was understood they had suffered enough. In contrast, the seven assigned to Australia were placed on five-year temporary protection visas.

Amal Basry would wander the streets at night, unable to stop the recurring nightmares of her ill-fated boat journey and of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein that claimed the lives of family members. As she told me many times, her state of panic was intensified by her temporary status. She had become a living ghost.

In stark contrast to the actions of the Federal government, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre provided Amal refuge. She received trauma counselling, medical assistance, material aid and legal representation. Above all, her story was acknowledged, her courage recognised.

The centre represents the other side of the equation. Refugees are welcomed. They are helped back on their feet in ways far too numerous to list in a column. Volunteers worked round the clock earlier this year to  relocate the centre in the abandoned old City Mission in Nicholson Street, Footscray, turning it into a vibrant centre of refuge.

The centre’s services are expanding, with a shift towards empowering asylum seekers through innovative employment schemes and businesses. Its many donors, volunteers and staff are on the frontline in maintaining Australia as a vibrant, non-racist, multicultural nation. Yet, as Kon points out, many staff are in a state of grief and anger at government policies, and the despair they are inflicting. At the moment it’s the worse it has ever been for asylum seekers, he says.

October 19 is a day to reflect on their plight. And on the fact that despite talk of orderly processes, the Coalition government has cut its refugee intake by  more than 30 per cent, at a time when the need is greater than ever. Australia accepts just 0.3 per cent of the world’s refugees, making us 67th relative to our population, and 74th relative to wealth.

The date should be designated boat people day, a time to share stories and acknowledge that apart from indigenous people, we are all, give or take a few generations, a nation of immigrants.  The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is a house of stories. Even the walls speak. They are adorned with larger-than-life photos of asylum seekers’ faces, accompanied by accounts of their journeys.

In mid-2005 Amal was in hospital receiving treatment for cancer. The nurses heard her screaming. When they ran to her bed, she was clutching her mobile. She had just been informed of receiving permanent residency. She was ecstatic. “I am a free woman in a free society,” she kept repeating. She was finally at home, her brave journey completed.

Meanwhile, the names in Kon’s second notebook are rapidly mounting.

Arnold Zable is a Melbourne writer. He tells the story of Amal Basry in his most recent book, Violin Lessons


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Asylum seeker policy immoral: Vic church

October 18, 2014 |

ABOUT 800 Victorian church leaders have openly deplored Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.

MELBOURNE’S Anglican diocesan parliament on Thursday night declared the government’s policy contrary to Christian teaching and morals, and a vast majority of the 800 clergy and representatives committed to actively conveying their concerns to MPs and the public.

The group will interrupt their debates on Saturday to gather outside Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral, under a banner declaring “Let’s fully welcome refugees”.Bishop Philip Huggins urged the government to lift Australia’s refugee intake from 13,500 to 30,000 a year.He said it was good that fewer people were dying at sea, but international conflicts meant an influx of refugees and the present deterrence-based policy amounted to human rights abuse.The church’s vote was not unanimous, with Cranbourne minister David Powys saying efforts on both sides of parliament shouldn’t be dismissed.It comes as about 30 Edmund Rice Education Australia school communities carry out national silent protests against the detention of asylum seeker children, arguing they should be allowed to live in the community.About 200 people gathered at Essendon’s St Bernard’s College on Friday with their mouths taped and wrists bound, including 17-year-old student Thomas Monaghan who said he felt strongly about the issue.”We wanted to be the voice for those people that don’t have a voice,” he told reporters.”Kids that grow up in detention centres end up have a high chance of having mental illness when they’re older, so we are trying to put a stop to that and allow these children to be children.”


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers’ personal details stolen in second immigration data breach

October 16, 2014 | the guardian

Stolen information on Nauru asylum seekers includes case files, medical histories and protection claims.

Asylum seekers in the detention centre on Nauru.
Guardian Australia understands the asylum seekers have not been told their personal information has been stolen. Photograph: Department of Immigration/AAP

The personal details of hundreds of asylum seekers on Nauru have been stolen in a second major data breach within Australia’s immigration detention system.

At least two hard drives, not password-protected and containing the personal details of hundreds of asylum seekers, including children, have been stolen from detention camps this year.

The sensitive information stolen includes detainees’ complete personal details and case files, medical histories, as well as their protection claims detailing why they felt forced to leave their home country to claim asylum in Australia.

The stolen files also contain case worker notes on detainees, including mental health and behavioural issues, complaints about treatment and allegations of abuse, and the minutes of “vulnerable minors meetings” where the issues faced by children in detention were discussed.

None of the information has been recovered after several months.

Guardian Australia understands the asylum seekers have not been told their personal information has been stolen.

In February, Guardian Australia revealed the personal details of nearly 10,000 adults and children in immigration in detention had beeninadvertently posted on a public website by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

This week, the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the department website would be secure in future.

“In that case, the weaknesses that were identified have been rectified,” Morrison said.

But the minister’s office has not responded to queries regarding the lost Nauru hard drives, the nature of the information lost, or who might have accessed it.

The theft was first reported by SBS, but more details can now be revealed.

Internal correspondence seen by Guardian Australia says one of the Nauru hard drives was stolen from an office tent in a detention centre in April.

“Obviously this is concerning for several reasons. It contains documents with clients’ personal details … it highlights how unsecure the office tents are,” it says.

A series of emails highlights the lack of security in the camps, detailing that mobile phones, hard disks, laptops and fans have been stolen, including from locked cabinets.

“There is nowhere to store keys at the moment which means that the keys to our storerooms and shipping containers which have thousands of dollars worth of equipment in them are kept out in the open,” one email said.

A second hard drive, containing sensitive child protection information, was stolen less than a month later.

A manager from Wilson Security promised to review security in response to the thefts.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children said the protection and wellbeing of the children and families on Nauru was the organisation’s highest priority.

“We are therefore extremely concerned about the loss of data on Nauru. An internal investigation has been undertaken into what happened and how it happened,” she said.

Executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, David Manne, said the alleged loss of asylum seekers’ sensitive information was a “grave concern”.

“It is a fundamental principle of refugee law that a person who is seeking asylum must be free to make that claim without fear of their privacy being breached and without fear of disclosure of that personal information, possibly to their persecutors, the very people they are fleeing,” he said.

The disclosure of asylum seekers’ personal information, especially if it might be able to be accessed by the people, government, or group an asylum seeker is fleeing, could be grounds, of itself, for the granting of refugee protection, Manne said.

“We are aware of several cases where information people have given in their protection claim has fallen into the hands of agents of persecution, and that has put already vulnerable people at a heightened risk of persecution,” he added.


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

UK to deport Pakistani activist despite Taliban death threats

October 16, 2014

Liaquat Ali Hazara, whose deportation is set for 21 October, campaigned for Shia minority group against sectarian violence.

Liaquat Ali Hazara
Liaquat Ali Hazara is a campaigner for a Shia minority group that shares his name – the Hazaras. Photograph: Facebook

Britain plans to deport a prominent Pakistani activist within a week, even though he has received multiple death threats from the country’s most brutal sectarian group, and from Taliban militants who know his home address and have been stalking him online.

Liaquat Ali Hazara is a campaigner for a Shia minority group that shares his name, the Hazaras. More than 500 Hazaras have been killed in his home province of Balochistan since 2008, according to a Human Rights Watch report published this year, entitled We Are the Walking Dead.

It details bombings and shootings, including an assault on a bus full of pilgrims, when gunmen came back to kill wounded survivors as they were taken to hospital. “There is no travel route, no shopping trip, no school run, no work commute that is safe,” the report said.

The UK government has scheduled Hazara’s deportation for 21 October on the grounds that he would be safe in other parts of the country, he told the Guardian. But they still plan to fly him to Quetta, the Balochistan capital and his hometown, where threatening letters have been hand-delivered to the house where his wife and parents live. He worries he may not even make to his front door.

“The threatening letters that were sent to my home say very clearly if I don’t stop talking against the extremist groups or if I come back to Pakistan they will behead me,” Hazara said in a phone interview from the detention centre where he is being held.

“I fear they can just “disappear” me from the airport, because they have good contacts with the security people as well, who have been infiltrated by the religious extremists.”

Even if he does survive the journey, it is not clear where he might go if he left his job. There have been sectarian killings across Pakistan, and some of the emailed death threats have been traced to Karachi, a port city several hundred miles away from Quetta, and Hyderabad, another distant town.

“We will deal with you the same way as we do with your people in Quetta, who are sent to hell,” someone using the name Abdul Haq Jhangvi wrote to him in 2011. “We have decided to catch you alive, then, we will send your head [to] your people. We will teach you a good lesson so that no other person dares to write against the Taliban mujahideen. We will see you very soon.”

Shia Hazara mourn suidice bomb victims in Quetta
Hazara relatives attend the funeral ceremony of victims who were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Quetta this month. Photograph: Jamal Tarakai/EPA

Hazara, 36, was studying for an accountancy diploma in London when his concerns about rising sectarian violence pushed him to begin campaigning in 2009.

Outside the region, the scale of the killings is not well known and there is little pressure on Islamabad for change, while the Pakistani government has seemed largely indifferent to the steadily rising toll.

After the attack on the bus of pilgrims in 2011, the provincial chief minister, Aslam Raisani, said: “Of the millions who live in Balochistan, 40 dead [in this attack] is not a big deal. I will send a truckload of tissue papers to the bereaved families.”

Determined to try to change those attitudes, Hazara founded the Hazara United Movement, a political campaign group, organising protests and sit-ins, writing op-eds and running a campaigning blog. Among other achievements, it helped lay the ground for a House of Commons debatethis year on the situation in Balochistan.

His work did not go unnoticed at home, however. The first threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e Jhangvi, one of Pakistan’s most vicious Sunni militant groups arrived in 2010 and 2011. After a string of emailed warnings in English, and handwritten threats in Pashtu and Urdu, Hazara claimed asylum in September 2012, based on his high-profile political activities.

His first barrister failed to present the immigration tribunal with information he had prepared detailing how the threat to his life extended beyond Quetta, Hazara said. Two subsequent reports from a legal expert were rejected by the Home Office as insufficient grounds for asylum, he says, and he was refused a request for a judicial review of the case.

“My life is genuinely in danger, and the Home Office is not listening,” said Hazara, who has been in detention since July with deportion set for next week. “I would like to request Human Rights Groups to campaign for me and exert more meaningful pressure.”


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Filed under Deportation, Hazara Persecution

Rohingya baby born in Australia denied refugee status

October 15, 2014 | world bulletin

Rohingya baby born in Australia denied refugee status
File Photo

Court denies 11-month-old Rohingya Muslim boy residence despite Australian birth

World Bulletin/News Desk

A court in Australia has ruled that a Muslim Rohingya baby born in a Brisbane hospital does not have the right to refugee status, local media reported Wednesday.

Eleven-month-old Ferouz Myuddin was denied a protection visa, which would have given him permanent residence in Australia, after a federal court judge ruled he was an “unauthorized maritime arrival” so could not claim refugee status.

The ruling has implications for around 100 babies born on Australian soil to asylum-seeker parents who arrived by boat, according to Murray Watt, a lawyer for the family cited by the Brisbane Times.

Ferouz was born in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital after his mother was transferred from a refugee detention center on Nauru, the Pacific island where many Australia-bound refugees are held.

His family, part of Myanmar’s Muslim minority who face persecution in their homeland, arrived in Australia in September last year before being taken to Nauru.

Judge Michael Jarrett agreed with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s decision that Ferouz had arrived on Australian territory illegally.

Watt said he was advising the Myuddin family, currently staying in a detention center in Darwin, to appeal.

“This is a ludicrous decision given he was born here in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital and he even has a Queensland birth certificate,” ABC News quoted him as saying.

Ferouz’s parents, who have two other children, are also applying for citizenship for him as a “stateless” migrant, arguing that as a Rohingya he is denied citizenship in Myanmar.

The ruling came as Australia tightens its immigration laws, particularly for ‘boat people’ arriving from Southeast Asia.

The country signed a deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees last month and runs offshore detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where conditions have been condemned by the UN.

The government has also reintroduced temporary visas to allow refugees to be returned to their country of origin if conditions improve.

On Tuesday the High Court in Canberra began hearing a case on the detention of 157 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers for weeks at sea. Lawyers say the Tamils were falsely imprisoned on the ship.

Sydney’s Refugee Action Coalition says hundreds of refugees have died at sea trying to get to Australia, with many deaths allegedly due to the search and rescue authorities focusing on stopping boats rather than saving lives.


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Australia to look into Afghan attacks

October 09, 2014 | SBS News

Scott Morrison says inquiries will be made into attacks on two Afghan Hazaras with links to Australia.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says his department will investigate allegations that two Afghan Hazaras with links to Australia have been attacked by Taliban fighters.

However, it appears he is unlikely to stop the deportation of seven other asylum seekers to the troubled country.

Refugee groups have raised concerns about the forced return of the Hazaras in the wake of the attacks, including the murder of dual Australian-Afghan citizen Sayed Habib Musawi.

Musawi was pulled off a bus while travelling from Ghazni province to Kabul, before being tortured and shot by the Taliban.

Another man, Zainullah Naseri, was reportedly tortured by the Taliban just weeks after being deported from Australia.

“Of course I would follow this up by ensuring appropriate inquiries are being made, and that’s what I have done,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

“I’ll see where that course takes us.”

But Mr Morrison indicated the violence in Afghanistan was unlikely to prevent the deportation of the seven Hazara men.

“People who are returned in these circumstances are found not to be refugees and not owed a protection by the Australian government,” he said.


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Filed under Deportation, Hazara Persecution