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Spotlight on Dandenong’s community of Afghan Hazaras by award-winning photojournalist Barat Ali Batoor

June 09, 2014

WBarat Ali Batoor is never far away from his trusty camera. Picture: Valeriu Campan

Barat Ali Batoor is never far away from his trusty camera. Picture: Valeriu Campan Source: News Limited

Barat Ali Batoor is always focussed on putting the spotlight on his community. Picture: V

Barat Ali Batoor is always focussed on putting the spotlight on his community. Picture: Valeriu Campan Source: News Limited

A WALKLEY-AWARD winning photojournalist will showcase an exhibition on the Afghan Hazara community next month in Dandenong.

Barat Ali Batoor’s work will be on display at the Walker Street Gallery from July 3 to 26 and aims to provide insight into the day-to-day lives of Hazaras in the city and the valuable contributions they make.

Immigration to Australia increased in the late 1990s as attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan rose substantially.

Today, there are an estimated 12,000 Hazaras living in Greater Dandenong and Casey.

Mr Batoor, a Hazara himself, worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan and has been published in the Washington PostNewsweekand The Wall Street Journal.

The Dandenong local spent four months researching and shooting the exhibit.

“I was thinking about how much they must have changed from when they first arrived and didn’t have any education and English,” Mr Batoor said.

“This story is about that, and in the exhibition I photographed people who started as labourers or working in meat factories, but now have their own businesses.

“It is mostly success stories.”

Mr Batoor said the exhibition would shed light on both the Hazara culture and asylum seeker issues.

“All we get from the media and news is mounting propaganda about asylum seekers and refugees,” he said.

“We have thousands of asylum seekers on bridging visas with no work rights, but if given the opportunity they will also shine and contribute to the community.”


One of Mr Batoor’s images: Najafi Barber Shop in Dandenong Arcade. Picture: Barat Ali Bat

One of Mr Batoor’s images: Najafi Barber Shop in Dandenong Arcade. Picture: Barat Ali Batoor/Supplied Source: Supplied


*A Hazara’s life:

n Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, at about 2.8 million, and have a population of more than 500,000 in neighbouring Pakistan.

n They are mostly Shia Muslims, making them targets for violence by extremist Sunni Muslim groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangri.

n Thousands have been killed in recent years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/south-east/spotlight-on-dandenongs-community-of-afghan-hazaras-by-awardwinning-photojournalist-barat-ali-batoor/story-fngnvmhm-1226945531506

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Tony Abbott, Hazaras are not economic migrants

April 27, 2014


Tony Abbott, Hazara are not economic migrants!:

 Australian immigration department’s recent move to deny permanent protection visas to scores of declared refugees and customs and border protection services’ graphic novel aimed at deterring Hazara asylum seekers have not only proved shocking to thousands of asylum seekers but have also invited massive criticism from human and refugee rights activists and organization all around the world.

While refusing grant of permanent protection to the declared refugees, the immigration minister, Scot Morrison, quoted the clause 866.222 of the Australian Migration Regulations 1994 which says that anybody who gets to Australia by boat without visa is ineligible for getting permanent residence. Morrison introduced the draconian and discriminatory clause in October last as part of his hard lined policy against the boat people which was, however, voted down by the Australian senate on March 27, 2014. The credit to disallow the clause, no doubt, goes to the Greens leader, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who is one of the big supporters of refugees in Australia.

The minister also tried to reintroduce the infamous “Temporary Protection Visa” of John Howard’s era, which was also rejected by the Labours and the Greens with majority votes in the senate. He also introduced a new “Code of Conduct” which imposes extra and irrational obligations on asylum seekers while living in community. This is somewhat similar to section 295-B and 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy law under which a person can be detained and sentenced to death on mere complaint of another person regarding violation of the law even if that person has not done so.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott also supports Morrison’s tough policies and has even termed it like that of a war against people smugglers, though, in fact, it is a war against asylum seekers. Tony Abbott must feel ashamed for issuing such a statement as it does not suit the country like Australia to declare war against a handful of people smugglers which is directly affecting thousands of persecuted and terrorism-hit asylum seekers from across the world who try to get to Australia by boat in a bid to save their lives. There are many other ways to cope with human smugglers, but a war against them at the cost of lives of poor asylum seekers is not acceptable at all under any law.

Over and above, the publishing of the graphic novel on Australian customs website deterring Hazaras from Afghanistan and Pakistan not to travel to Australia by boat and the advertisement “No way. They will not make Australia Home” on immigration department’s website is the worst kind of promotion to stop asylum seekers from choosing Australia as the place to take refuge. One can’t imagine that a civilized country like Australia could go to such an extent so shamelessly just to stop the people who are fleeing their countries to avoid persecution.

This pictorial story of the Hazara boy is a total negation of the plight and persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trying to depict terrorism-stricken Hazaras as economic migrants is a misleading message being propagated by Australia across the globe. The way it shows the boy thinking about getting to Australia while working at an auto workshop, forcing his parents for arranging money for his travel, having lavish meals at restaurant and feeling remorse in detention centre for travelling to Australia is altogether false and quite opposite to actual facts.

It is true that Hazaras have got some representation in Afghan parliament and government as compared to the past yet they are still being subjected to persecution and discrimination in most parts of the country which is why Hazaras are fleeing from Afghanistan. Before producing such fact-distorting graphic novel, Morrison should have studied the report of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT’s) about Afghanistan (Note: Australian government has removed this doc from this URL) published on 31 July, 2013 which openly admits discrimination against Hazaras in Afghanistan on a wide range. Moreover, the UN report recently published reveals that the number of civilians killed and wounded in the conflicts in Afghanistan rose by 14% last year. Morrison should keep it in mind that he can make some naïve Australian fool for some time by such cheap tactics but can’t deceive the world by distorting the actual facts.

Abbott government must try to understand and highlight the reasons forcing Hazaras out of their native countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan instead of launching a propaganda campaign against these helpless people for political point scoring.  Hazaras are not economic migrants as is being propagated by Morrison. Nobody would ever dare to undertake the risky voyage in a rickety boat in dangerous Indian Ocean to get to Australia for economic gains. The entire world knows as to what is going on with Hazaras in Pakistan and Afghanistan that is driving them out of their countries.

Asylum seekers whether they are from Pakistan or Afghanistan or any other country, all deserve to be treated in a compassionate and humane way. Those who travel by boat to get to Australia even deserve more compassion than those who travel by plane as they put their life at risk and are not sure if they would get to Australia alive or not. Interestingly, in Australia, the government has adopted quite an opposite policy and the asylum seekers who arrive by boat are treated as criminals and punished for their crime of putting their life at risk.

Australian government needs to reconsider its hard-lined policy against all asylum seekers in general and Hazaras in particular keeping in view the harsh treatment and brutalities they are undergoing in their native countries at the hands of Islamist terrorist groups.

Haider Ali

Sourced from http://www.hazara.net/2014/04/tony-abbott-hazaras-are-not-economic-migrants/

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Bogor authorities to evict asylum seekers

April 12, 2014

Hard life: Two Afghan refugees, Ishaq Ali (left) and Qurban Ali, repair water pipes leading to their rented house in Batulayang village, Cisarua district, Bogor, last week. Bogor authorities were to launch raid on illegals living on the Puncak mountainous resort on Monday. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Hard life: Two Afghan refugees, Ishaq Ali (left) and Qurban Ali, repair water pipes leading to their rented house in Batulayang village, Cisarua district, Bogor, last week. Bogor authorities were to launch raid on illegals living on the Puncak mountainous resort on Monday. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Bogor authorities are set to crack down on asylum seekers and refugees in the mountainous resort region of Puncak, although many local people have no objection to their presence and activities, which have reportedly caused no trouble for the community. 

Residents of Batu Kasur village in Batulayang said the asylum seekers and refugees, who have left their home countries in the Middle East, should not be removed, but that the relevant authorities should instead help them to solve their problems.

The villagers’ testimonies contradict a recent statement from a Bogor official, which said that the asylum seekers and refugees had caused trouble for local people.

“We want the regency of Bogor to be free of [asylum seekers] due to the trouble they have caused to local communities,” Bogor public security agency head Rizal Hidayat said.

He said last week that residents had complain about unruly behavior from the asylum seekers, such as bringing home sex workers and being rowdy. He added that their presence had become a nuisance.

A large number of asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, are using the Puncak area of Bogor regency as a place of transit while they apply for official refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Jakarta.

Most of them hope to reach a third country such as Australia, due to the peaceful conditions and the perceived job prospects there.

In contrast to Rizal’s statement, 60-year-old vendor Popon said that she did not mind the asylum seekers living in her neighborhood because they all had exhibited good behavior and helped to boost the local economy.

“I don’t know about the asylum seekers in other villages, but over here, they do not cause any trouble,” Popon told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

According to Waspud “Budi”, a Kuningan-born resident who is renting houses to asylum seekers and refugees in Batu Kasur, those living in his neighborhood are abiding by the rules set by the community.

“In order to live in this neighborhood, we give them a set of rules to abide by, including not disturbing the peace of residents, respecting a 10 p.m. noise curfew and not bringing sex workers into the homes. So far, they have not broken the rules,” Budi said on Sunday.

Budi added that the presence of the asylum seekers and refugees had benefitted the neighborhood economically.

“They spend money at our warung [food stalls] and markets, helping to boost the local economy. They are also helpful people, despite not speaking our language,” he added.

The majority of the asylum seekers cannot speak English or Indonesian. Due to the language barrier, many of them do not interact with local residents.

“We rarely interact with the locals directly, but at the mosques we exchange friendly looks,” said Qurban Ali, an Afghan-born refugee from Quetta, Pakistan, who has been living in Batu Kasur for eight months. He has only been learning English for three months and speaks no Indonesian.

Similarly, Ishaq Ali, a 33-year-old former school librarian from Jaghori, Afghanistan, who is fluent in English, said that despite the language barrier, he found the residents helpful.

“The residents here are helpful. Even though I speak very little Indonesian, it seems to be enough for them to understand me,” he said.

Qurban and Ishaq, who are not related, are both Afghan-born asylum seekers. They have applied for official refugee status from the UNHCR office, and each share a house with four or five other Afghanis in Batu Kasur village. 

Qurban, a father of five who was previously a dried fruit merchant in Quetta, received his refugee card from the UNHCR eight months ago. After being granted legal refugee status, the UN said that he would be relocated to Australia. However, Qurban does not know when that will happen.

Ishaq has not yet received his card, due to the fact that he has only been in Indonesia for around a month.

When asked about the prospect of being evicted by the Bogor government, both men were unsure where they would go if they were asked to leave their current homes.

“If the [Bogor] government asks us to leave this area, I don’t know where I could go,” Qurban remarked.

According to the Bogor Immigration Office, 254 refugees are registered in Bogor regency. Over recent years, the administration has sent 257 asylum seekers to detention centers across Indonesia. 

On April 14, the Bogor Immigration Office — along with the Bogor public security agency, the police and the Law and Human Rights Ministry — intends to conduct a campaign to inform local residents, as well as the asylum seekers and refugees, of the plan to eject them from Bogor regency. 

The campaign will involve informing residents that lease their houses to the asylum seekers and refugees of the plan.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2014/04/12/bogor-authorities-evict-asylum-seekers.html

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Picture of kindness captures hearts

March 06, 2014

Ajai, by a 16-year-old asylum seeker, captured hearts to claim the RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize People's Choice Award.

‘Ajai’, by a 16-year-old asylum seeker, captured hearts to claim the RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize People’s Choice Award.

A SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD asylum seeker has won this year’s RACT Insurance Tasmanian Portraiture Prize People’s Choice Award.

Murtazza, whose last name cannot be used, drew his winning piece, Ajai, while at the Pontville Detention Centre.

The subject is a kindly woman from a library who made him feel welcome in Australia.

“I’m a 16-year-old boy living without my mother and my family,” his artist statement said.

“I can say I came to Australia by boat in a very dangerous condition. From the first time, from when I put my foot in the door, I felt alone.”

The woman he described as having a “great heart” said he could call her Ajai, or grandmother in Hazaragi.

“From here I understood how the Tasmanian people have great hearts,” he said.

“That they can accept another name which is not from their language, they think widely.”

Ajai received 275 votes and Murtazza said the $500 prizemoney would go towards taking art classes.

The RACT Tasmanian Portraiture Prize received more than 70 entries.The overall winner was Alex Davern, runner-up Nik Lee, and sponsors’ choice Emily Blom.

Source: http://www.examiner.com.au/story/1942580/picture-of-kindness-captures-hearts/

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For Hazara, a Grim Choice of Asylum or Death

February 13, 2014


Australia’s hard-line policy on asylum seekers including bundling them into lifeboats and sending them back to Indonesia. (AFP Photo/Timur Matahari)

When Malcolm Fraser, a former Australian prime minister, criticized the country’s hard-line policies for turning genuine asylum seekers into a political punching bag, he may well have had the plight of groups like the Hazara of Afghanistan and Pakistan in mind.

Groups like this, say critics of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pledge to “turn back the boats,” have been left dehumanized, with little attention paid to why they are desperate enough to risk their lives to reach Australian shores.

Hazaras, like asylum seeker Hamzad, not his real name, face extermination in Pakistan, their distinguishable Asiatic features allowing terrorists to pick them out for murderous attacks.

Over the last 200 years, the Hazara have fled persecution in Afghanistan to find refuge in the border town of Quetta in Pakistan, where many have established families and businesses. Since 2001 the Hazara community there has been threatened as violence against them has amplified.

Sunni terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) specifically attack Hazaras as their ethnicity points to their “heretic” Shiite religious beliefs. They are a people LeJ wants eradicated from Pakistan.

Bomb attacks against them are planned to cause maximum destruction. In one of the bloodiest attacks in Quetta on Jan. 10 last year, a suicide bomber walked into a packed billiard hall and blew himself up.

An ambulance arrived shortly after and was ushered to the site — only to be detonated as a secondary bomb.

Children have been no exception in the attacks. A February 2013 bombing ripped through a vegetable market where mothers and children were shopping for groceries. On Sept. 20, 2011, armed men boarded a bus traveling from Quetta to Iran. Twenty-six Hazara men were identified, taken off the bus, lined up and murdered.

Just three weeks earlier, 26 people, including women and children, were killed in a bus attack while on a pilgrimage. An ambulance carrying the injured was later attacked, killing three more people. LeJ claimed responsibility.

Hamzad says that for the Hazara, the future is dire. He does not believe Hazaras can find a home in Afghanistan or Pakistan if the situation persists. He believes the Hazara are becoming a landless people, without security, without hope.

Human rights researcher and Hazara spokesman Ahmad Shuja says the rise in the number of Hazara asylum seekers trying to make it to Australia is a direct result of the violence, and that changes in Australia’s immigration policy ignore the root causes of why people are seeking asylum.

“This is evident when we see that despite the toughening of asylum laws, the number of refugees has continued to increase. This is because the violence they are fleeing has intensified,” he says. “The recent amendments to Australia’s refugee law and the associated media campaign to dissuade Hazaras from coming to Australia seem to disregard the targeted violence and terrorism these refugees are fleeing. These laws are a destination-side solution to a problem that is really about the point of origin.”

Some have labeled the violence as yet another battle between Sunni and Shiite, but Shuja says this is a misconception.

“The violence in Quetta is often branded as Shiite-Sunni violence. It is not. The Shiites are not retaliating, and the broader Sunni community is not involved in the attacks against the Shiites,” he says. “The attacks are carried out by a highly sophisticated Sunni terrorist group that does effective intelligence gathering about targets and then stages complex, highly effective attacks. Their stated target is the Shiite across Pakistan, with specific emphasis on targeting the Hazara community in Quetta with the ultimate aim of ‘ridding Pakistan of their unclean presence.’”

LeJ attacks Shiites across Pakistan, but has said it wants to cause a mass displacement of Hazaras or their complete extermination.

“To that end, thousands of Hazaras have been killed, injured or maimed for life. The LeJ’s motives appear to be genocidal, regardless of whether the carnage they have inflicted so far can be technically called genocide,” Shuja says.

Despite being persecuted, Hamzad says the Hazara remain committed to peace, not retaliating with violence.

“We are not using guns because we want peace, that is why we are leaving,” he says. “We can also take guns and stand against them, but we see all humans as brothers and sisters. If they are angry, we have to be patient.”

Fighting and killing will only sustain the cycle of violence, he says.

“We don’t want killing, we don’t want anything, we just want peace. We want to live peacefully and leave others to live peacefully,” he says.

Shuja says the attacks are carried out to “paralyze daily life” for the Hazara community.

“In short, daily life is not safe for the Hazaras. Victims have been children as young as 2 and men and women as old as 70,” he says. “Nobody can go to school, work or place of worship without a genuine fear of being killed. Children cannot get an education, the poor cannot earn a living, and commodity prices have gone up.

“It is a small community of about 500,000 people. Everyone knows or is connected to someone who has been killed or injured. This carnage has been going on for more than a decade, and the [Pakistani] government has utterly failed to bring to justice anyone from the terrorist group.

“The physical, economic and psychological toll is devastating and cross-generational when you live under constant fear of violent death from relentless, unending attacks on your community.”

After two devastating attacks at the start of 2013, Pakistani forces tightened security across Quetta, but Shuja says tougher security and better intelligence is needed to fight LeJ, which runs training camps around Quetta and communicates on the public cellular networks.

Often attacks happen inside of police checkpoints, but perpetrators escape justice, leading to allegations that members of Pakistan’s security forces may be complicit in the attacks, Shuja says.

Amnesty International has also openly criticized the Pakistani government for not protecting the Hazara community and for not prosecuting those responsible.

Shuja says LeJ has political connections and is closely linked to the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) political party, a reincarnation of the banned Sunni sectarian terrorist group Sipah-e-Sahaba.

“The ASWJ leadership consists of influential Sunni religious leaders, some of whom have been implicated in courts in connection with deadly attacks on Shias and inciting violence against them,” Shuja says.

The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party was in an electoral alliance with ASWJ.

“The coziness of the ruling elite with the party that gives political cover to the terrorist LeJ does not bode well for efforts to stem the murderous tide against the Hazara-Shias in Quetta,” Shuja says.

Both he and Hamzad also criticized the international community for failing to help the Hazara nation.

“The international community can do a lot to stand behind the Hazaras’ right to life, religious liberty, work and education,” Shuja says. “Despite a decade of relentless deadly attacks against them, and the Pakistani government’s lack of genuine will to stop the bloodbath, the international community has shown little to no concern. On the contrary, countries such as Australia have toughened their immigration laws as the bloodbath has intensified. European countries such as Norway and the UK are forcibly deporting asylum seekers.”

He says the international community should at the very least ensure that asylum and immigration laws protect rather than disadvantage those fleeing violence in Quetta, bring attention to the persecution on the international rights agenda, and put pressure on the Pakistani government to come down hard on LeJ.

“The Hazaras of Quetta deserve protection, not abandonment to targeted violence,” Shuja says.

Returning to Afghanistan is difficult, with ethnic tensions there leading to the violence and displacement of Hazaras. Insecurity is rife in the country, which has impacted on Hazaras, often leaving them stranded in their villages because of unsafe roads in the provinces.

The Hazara are targeted at insurgents’ arbitrary checkpoints for supporting the government and working with foreign militaries and organizations.

“The Hazaras support the government and work as interpreters for foreign troops and help international aid organizations, so they are in the crosshairs,” Shuja says.

Figures for the size of the Hazara community vary between three million and eight million worldwide, mostly concentrated in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, with sizable diaspora communities in North America, the Scandinavian countries and Australia.

It is difficult to count how many Hazaras have been killed in violence plaguing Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last three decades.

Shuja said it could be in the tens of thousands, maybe more, in Afghanistan; while in Quetta, the casualties range in the several thousands, although accurate public records are not available.

Source: http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/international/for-hazaras-a-grim-choice-of-asylum-or-death/

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Last-minute High Court decision delays deportation of elderly Afghan man

February 05, 2014

stop deportation pic copy

The High Court in Sydney has delayed the deportation of an elderly Afghan man, just hours before he would have been forcibly flown to Kabul.

The 65-year-old man is from the minority Hazara community and arrived in Australia in 2011 and says he has not lived in Afghanistan for decades.

Early last year, the Refugee Review Tribunal knocked back his application to stay in Australia permanently.

Analysis: Peter Lloyd discusses the case

[The case] still gets considered by one judge as to whether or not there are grounds for this to be stopped, and that matter will be held at the High Court in Sydney via videolink to her [Justice Bell] in Canberra on Thursday afternoon at 4:30[pm].
It’s not an injunction of significance, because this is just delaying until Thursday the process going against this man.
The judge herself wasn’t satisfied that she had a clear enough, a readable enough copy of the original Refugee Review Tribunal’s arguments.
So this is in some sense a technical delay, not a delay on the merits of the case.


The High Court has granted the man an injunction until Thursday so it can decide if there are grounds for an appeal.

The court will then consider more fully looking at the Refugee Review Tribunal’s explanation for why it refused the application.

A solicitor representing the Government on Tuesday argued that the Afghan man had had a chance over the past year to make his application for a stay of deportation and had not done so.

The Government argued that effectively his time was up and the case was over.


Justice Virginia Bell, however, said the Government’s reasons were not strong enough and that she wanted to have a closer look at the tribunal report.

Grave fears for man if returned to Afghanistan

The Taliban is notorious for persecuting Hazara people and refugee advocates fear for the man’s life if he is forcibly repatriated.

“This is one of those rare cases where you can say with some confidence that the probability that those who orchestrate the return of someone like this to Kabul will end up having blood on their hands is pretty high,” said leading Afghanistan academic Professor William Maley.

The man at the centre of the case is illiterate and has lost contact with relatives back home. He says he fled persecution in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Who are the Hazaras?

  • Though to be of Central Asian decent, most likely from Mongolia and Turkey.
  • Popular theory is that Hazaras are descendents of Genghis Kahn and his soldiers, who invaded Afghanistan in the 12th century.
  • Around 7 million live in Afghanistan, in the ethnic region of Hazarajat.
  • Smaller groups of Hazaras live in Pakistan and Iran.
  • Hazaras’ facial features are distinctly Mongolian, setting them apart from most Afghans.
  • Most are Shiite Muslims, as opposed to Sunnis who make up 85 per cent of Afghanistan’s population.
  • Many Hazaras were killed or forced out of Afghanistan during conflicts in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Historically, they have been oppressed by past governments and openly targetted by the Taliban.


For a long period he settled in Quetta in Pakistan but it too became a dangerous place for a man with his ethnic background.

When the case came before the Refugee Review Tribunal early last year, it agreed that he may be persecuted in his home province of Uruzgan – which has just been vacated by Australian troops – but the tribunal does believe that he could return and live in the Afghan capital.

That is strongly disputed by Sonia Caton, a lawyer and chairman of the Refugee Council of Australia.

Ms Caton says the man has no family in Kabul to go back to.

“The reasoning around the relocation to Kabul doesn’t accord with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) eligibility guidelines for protection in our view,” she said.

“Furthermore, he has vulnerabilities such as his age, his illiteracy, the fact that he has no contacts or relatives at all in Kabul and hardly any in Afghanistan [which] would make him a very serious consideration for complementary protection, and no reasons were given for refusing complementary protection.”

A week ago the man was taken into custody and put into the Villawood detention centre in Sydney.

The tribunal’s judgment in refusing to provide a visa is also being challenged by Professor Maley, who has provided expert opinion to the lawyers.

“The Hazaras have had centuries of discrimination and persecution in Afghanistan. The reason for this is that they are members of the Shiite minority within the Muslim faith in Afghanistan,” he said.

“They’re also physically rather distinctive; they have east Asian appearance rather than southern European, and that means that when you get groups like the Taliban who tend to regard Shiite Muslims as heretics, the Hazaras are the obvious targets.

“We saw 2,000 Hazaras killed in just three days in northern Afghanistan in Mazar-e Sharif in August 1998.

“In December 2011 there was a bombing attack on a Hazara place of worship in Kabul itself, and on that particular day of attacks, over 50 people were killed in Afghanistan.

“Hazaras are tremendously apprehensive that they will again be targeted in a very substantial way as the Taliban seek to press their campaign of terror in different parts of the country.”

Ambassador voices concerns over deportation

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canberra, Nasir Andisha, says his hands are tied, and he is shocked about the deportation.

“It’s a sovereign country’s decision to decide whether to keep this person or to send him to Afghanistan,” he said.

Mr Andisha says the Afghan embassy in Canberra has not issued any papers to say the man is an Afghan.

“The specific case of this gentleman – and again, this is what I’m hearing from media, I don’t have any documents to tell me this – in the specific case of this man, a 65-year-old man with no social support network in Kabul returning to a city he has not probably seen in the past and doesn’t have any relatives or siblings or anyone to look after him or receive him from the airport,” he said.

“And it’s cold – I don’t know where he’s going to live, where he’s going to stay. That’s why I’m really concerned.”

“As a human being, also, I don’t like this idea of course. But it’s nothing to do with the embassy to stop it or not to stop it because this is, again, a sovereign country.”

Mr Andisha says the Australian Government has not asked for input from the Afghan ambassador on the case.

In a possible corollary, the deportation order may backfire. The ambassador says his government is unlikely to accept the forced return of a citizen, so it’s likely the man may reach Kabul only to be sent back to Australia.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-04/high-court-delays-deportation-of-elderly-afghan-man/5238426

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No exit [for the Hazaras]

January 26, 2014

He fled Pakistan for the relative safety of Australia, only to meet tragedy in a detention camp

Nobody can understand the pain and plight of 22-year-old Mohammad Naqi*. A father murdered in Quetta. A forced migration from his hometown. A brother stabbed in a “detention camp” in Nauru. And a sister who died in his lap due to lack of treatment in the very same camp. Ironically, this family of three had fled from Quetta to protect their lives.

“I am safe today, but I have paid a huge price for this security. I am a broken man. I want to piece myself together again, but sometimes, I just don’t have the strength to do so.”

Even for a community used to migration, the concept of ‘Home’ is fast-becoming alien to many Hazaras. “How can you talk about home, when we weren’t safe in the sanctity of our houses?” Naqi bellowed.

Naqi’s plight started in 2012, when his father was shot dead in a Quetta bazaar — for the crime of being a Hazara. They buried him alongside their mother, who had passed away in in 2001.

Orphaned and insecure, the three siblings decided to make the move to Australia, a country that had been accepting Hazara asylum-seekers. “Some family friends had migrated to Australia in 2008. We contacted the same human trafficker who had handled their case,” narrated Naqi. “After an initial deposit was made, we set off for Malaysia from Karachi, on a legitimate tourist visa. From Malaysia, we were supposed to go to Indonesia, from where we were to be smuggled to Australia by boat.”

It all went accirding to plan, till the siblings arrived in Australia — in February 2013.

“Even before we reached Australian shores, we were apprehended by Australian authorities. We were then sent to Manus Island, to live in tents in what they call detention centres. That’s where I first lost my elder brother, and then my younger sister,” Naqi recalled.

These detention centres are the cornerstone of the Australian immigration mechanism for asylum-seekers, explained Perth-based Jasmina Brankovich of the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN). “The John Howard-led government instituted what is known as the ‘Pacific Solution’ — offshore detention centres were created in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, from where asylum-seekers were to be brought to Australia,” she explained.

In theory, all asylum-seekers from across the globe are to be vetted at these detention centres — the reality is less sanitised.

“My brother, Saqib*, spoke some English,” narrated Naqi. “We met some African refugees at the same camp. They lived a few rows away from us. They didn’t speak English, so it was difficult to communicate with them. For some reason – I think it was over food – they quarrelled with Saqib one day. From then on, our relations became strained with them. One night, there was another altercation. The African men stabbed my brother, and there was nowhere I could go for medical help. He died the same night.”

Naqi also lost his sister, Salma*, because there was no medical treatment available for her when she contracted fever. “By the time, a doctor was sent to visit, it was too late. Apparently my sister was suffering from pneumonia. Salma breathed her last in my arms. In my arms.”

Alleging “inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers” at the hands of Australian authorities, Brankovich argued that the phenomenon needs to be placed in the context of racism in Australia. “Refugees are used as a political football,” she said. “There is a staggering amount of ignorance in Australia on the issue of asylum-seekers. The Hazara people are suffering genocide, they have a right to seek asylum in Australia.”

On the Australian government’s part, all efforts were focussed on resettling permanent Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. Sources working on migration from Pakistan, including Hazara migration, claimed that the Australian government was initially working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle registered Afghan Hazara refugees in Pakistan to Australia.

Per the initial arrangement, being discussed in February 2013, about 3,000 families could have been accommodated, but after carrying out a headcount, it turned out that there were only a little over 700 registered Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. This opened up space and the opportunity for Pakistani Hazaras to be accommodated in the asylum programme. The arrangement currently depends on the various agencies short-listing families deemed most vulnerable.

“In truth, Australia is still a colonial nation, a country that has not set itself free from its colonial past,” claimed Brankovich. “Boats are a very small percentage of transportation means adopted by asylum-seekers. But there is manipulation of Australian public opinion against asylum-seekers. When you visit detention centres, you’ll find people who are irreparably damaged. There is absolute mental health disintegration there.”

The pathetic situation at detention centres came to the fore in Australia as a team of 15 doctors, who headed to Christmas Island to inspect medical facilities and the immigration process, issued a 92-page “letter of concern” that detailed gross medical malpractices by Australian authorities in their attempt to divert asylum-seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The doctors, employed by the International Health and Management Services (IHMS), alleged that their employers and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have made decisions that “do not appear to have always been made in the best interest of patients.”

Among other explosive revelations, the doctors claimed: “Patients are now being cleared on the basis of an ineffective assessment and without pathology. Inappropriate reallocation of doctors away from clinics to perform more of these clinically unreliable assessments results in the deterioration of chronic disease and delayed treatment of acute illness.”

In related developments, on Jan 19, 2014, the Nauru government not only sacked but also deported its only magistrate, Peter Law. It also cancelled the visa of its chief justice, Geoffrey Eames, when he tried to intervene and prevent Law’s deportation. Both men were Australian citizens. It is widely believed that the action was prompted due to the pair’s treatment of asylum-seekers.

While Australia struggles with accommodating asylum-seekers in a societal fabric that is tainted by racism, families like Naqi’s have broken down. The Hazara people in Pakistan are a people defined by migration: Naqi’s grandparents migrated from Afghanistan and he himself had to move to Australia. He is now living in Sydney as a permanent Australian resident, but in search of safety, Naqi lost the very family he tried to save. “Some nights I wake up with dreams of holding my brother’s body. And some nights I wake holding my sister,” he says in a low voice. The nightmare, it seems, simply never ends.

Names changed to protect privacy

The author can be reached at @ASYusuf

Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1082696


Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy, Hazara Persecution, Torturing and Health Issues

Hazaras Have Nothing To Lose But Their Lives

November 05, 2013 | By Sam Bungey

Ali Hussain

In Karachi, Pakistan, Hussain points to a photograph of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A young filmmaker travelled to Quetta, Pakistan, to find out why so many Hazaras are risking their lives to seek refuge in Australia. Matthew Abbott found one Hazara man, Hussain, brave enough to allow him to film his desperate, dangerous bid for asylum from the start. It is still far from over.

At an airbase in southern Afghanistan on October 28, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Australian soldiers that he hoped the war they had been fighting had produced a country “that is better for our presence”.

Perhaps another product of that war is the asylum-seeker status of a Pakistani man in his 30s named Hussain. Hussain is currently eking out an existence at a remote caravan site in rural Australia. On a bridging visa, he is unable to make money to send home to his wife and children, who are sheltering in Quetta, Pakistan, just across the Afghan border from where the Australian PM was speaking.

Hussain is a Hazara, a member of the largely Shiite Muslim ethnic minority whose distinctive Asiatic features make them an easy target for religious persecution by Sunni extremists. Following the Allied invasion of Afghanistan, Taliban leaders regrouped in Quetta, and Taliban-linked organisations set about targeting Hazaras with car bombs and street shootings.

Hussain’s two brothers, in attempts to reach Australia, had disappeared and were presumed dead. Hussain himself had already unsuccessfully attempted the journey to Australia, but was determined to try again.

The city of Quetta is a hostile environment for journalists (at least two have been killed in bomb blasts this year, murders for which the Taliban-linked group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility), which is perhaps one reason that the violence committed against Hazaras there has been under-reported, despite attacks against Hazaras in Pakistan being characterised assystematic genocide.

Photographer and filmmaker Matthew Abbott (no relation to Australia’s prime minister) travelled there in March 2012, posing as a tourist and gaining access to Hazara Town, one of two Hazara enclaves in the city.

“I wanted to come to Quetta really to find out why Hazaras were willing to make such a perilous journey,” he says, referring to the many Hazaras who entrust their lives to people smugglers in the hope of reaching Australia.

Abbott arrived in Quetta as a funeral was being held for six Hazaras who had been gunned down while travelling on the notoriously dangerous Spini Road hours earlier.

That day he met a family whose son had been recently murdered. Weeks later Abbott learned that Musa, whom he’d hired to be his taxi driver during his time in Quetta, had been shot dead in his car. Such was the climate of fear that the photographer found no one prepared to talk about their plans to flee. But later he was told about a Quetta man living in Karachi who was preparing to connect with people smugglers in Indonesia. The man, Hussain, was willing to tell his story.

Abbott met Hussain at a Pizza Hut in an upmarket area of Karachi, where he was working as assistant manager. Hazaras are also openly targeted in Karachi, as The Global Mail has reported. Hussain had a steady job, and was able to send money home to extended family in Quetta, but he and his wife and children were living in a slum, Qasba Colony, in which they felt themselves to be virtual prisoners because they were terrified to leave their neighbourhood. Hussain had to negotiate dangerous, extremist-populated areas as part of his daily commute.



Hussain and filmmaker Matt Abbott in Sydney.

Hussain’s two brothers had previously left Quetta in attempts to reach Australia, but had disappeared and were presumed dead. Hussain himself had already unsuccessfully attempted the journey to Australia, but was determined to try again.

Hussain allowed Abbott to begin filming his daily life while he made preparations to leave, granting him intimate access to the mechanics of people smuggling and to debates with friends and family over the merits of once again putting himself in the hands of the smugglers.

Once Hussain had obtained the necessary visa, Abbott followed him home to Quetta, where the would-be asylum seeker said goodbye to his wife and two young daughters, whom he left in the care of other family members, and finally set off with Abbott.

At Quetta airport, Abbott’s luck ran out. He was detained by security officials who questioned him about his activities and confiscated some of his footage.

Although separated from Hussain, Abbott later arranged to get a video camera to him so he could continue filming the journey himself. Hussain delivered: he filmed in safe houses, and people smugglers’ homes on his route through South-East Asia and, finally, his crossing of a wild stretch of ocean in a rickety boat.

Watch the multimedia documentary here.

Nearly a year later, Abbott received a message: it was from Hussain, who was in Australia. Reunited in Sydney, the pair headed to the Opera House; they had often talked about one day meeting there for coffee.

“I don’t know about my future here, Matt,” says Hussain in the film. “The worst pressure is Mr Tony Abbott says we won’t get the visas, the permanent visas.”

Prime Minister Abbott’s government has reintroduced punitive schemes that could see someone like Hussain re-enter detention and even be sent back home. In the meantime, Hussain has been given no indication as to when he will be permitted to look for work.

For his fellow Hazaras, who may be hoping to flee Pakistan, where the killing and kidnapping continues, or who are forced to leave Afghanistan, where they no longer have the protection of Australian troops, the future is particularly uncertain.

Prime Minister Abbott declared that he will continue to honour the war’s brave military casualties: “We mourn them, we remember them, we honour them, we want to work with their families. We will never forget.” Less clear is what he will be doing with the refugees of this same war.

Source: http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/hazaras-have-nothing-to-lose-but-their-lives/724/

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Death of compassion; birth of hope

October 31, 2013

Rod Lewis (right) with Ali.

Rod Lewis (right) with Ali.

COMMENT | This week marks what I believe is a first for South Australia: an ayslum seeker, who arrived here by boat as an unaccompanied minor, has graduated from high school.

After fleeing Afghanistan and making it to our shores, Ali has excelled in his studies despite all language barriers.

Yesterday, he finished high school and now awaits news of his acceptance to university.

This lad has become part of my family. He is my son. Over the past few years, I have helped and watched him grow from a lost soul to a productive and enthusiastic member of our society – one who is not only studying hard in a new language to better his own future, but one who has dedicated his life to helping Australians understand the global issue of asylum seekers. He is a public speaker, and dedicates his time and energy to help his fellow Hazara peers to improve their life too. He’s an amazing individual. And he’s only 18.

A few years ago, the federal government started a community detention program for unaccompanied minors – asylum seekers (“boat people”) who were teenagers who had made the voyage without any parents or family. The program took these teenagers out of the harsh regime of Christmas Island and other adult detention centres and put them into staffed detention houses in the community where they could get 24-hour support and supervision, start attending school and begin to normalise their life. There has NEVER been an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker who has not been accepted as a refugee.

Through Baptist Care SA, I was asked to join the program and was in the first wave of volunteer mentors to be matched with one of the teenagers in community detention. It was one of those rare matches that was perfect. Ali is now living independently, but he and I have become a father/son team. He’s accepted as my son by both family and friends.

Of all the unaccompanied minors who have been through the system so far,  I believe Ali was the first in the State (and, I believe, nationally, but I can’t confirm that) to graduate from English language school to attend regular high school, and he’s now the first in the State to complete high school. He’s applied to do IT at university next year, and considering that he’s maintained an A/B average, I’m sure he’ll be accepted.

While this is a positive story, I believe that, as a country, we are creating the very world that we fear.

Instead of compassion and neighbourly love, we are building a world of bigotry, hatred and racial unrest. I can’t understand why we want that future for our children. The only way to give our kids a better life is to teach them to embrace the tapestry of life and show compassion to those who need it most. As Buddha said, we are the heir to our actions. If we hate people, they’ll learn to hate us back. If we welcome them and help them adjust to our culture, they’ll embrace us and contribute to our society.

I have a relative who recently posted on Facebook that we should “sink the boats”. He hates asylum seekers, almost obsessively, yet he donates furniture to refugees, spends his weekends helping mates, and absolutely does not condone mass murder. The fact that he has completely de-humanised “boat people” is an indictment on just how much our politicians and media have managed to destroy Australia’s compassion. Asylum seekers are no more than broken toys to be discarded in the hard rubbish. He does not associate “sinking the boats” with the mass death of women, children and displaced men.

As a country, we need to change the conversation. If “boat people” are criminals, like our politicians want us to believe, then why aren’t they facing our criminal courts like every other criminal in the country? They don’t face the courts because they’ve committed no crime. The language is a misleading technicality because international laws state that anyone can seek asylum by any means necessary. There is no “queue” to jump and they’re not “country hopping”: countries that are not a signatory to the Refugee Convention will just deport them right back to danger, so they have to keep moving.

I used to believe that only the rich were asylum seekers because they could afford to pay people smugglers, but since educating myself I’ve realised how many families sell their home and their livelihoods just to get one child to safety. They destroy their own future for the sake of their child. If that isn’t love, what is it?

One of my Afghan friends recently attended his sister’s wedding in Quetta City in Pakistan, where Hazara people are killed weekly (a fact that our media fails to acknowledge). In his first week there, within three blocks of his family home there was a suicide bombing, a rocket launch and a bus blown up. Thank God he survived, but if it was my family living there, I’d do all that I could to get them out.

Australians are a compassionate people who have lost their way. We are one of the richest countries in the world and have more space and capacity than most other countries. The number of “boat people” we received annually during the Labor government was less than the number received monthly by many other countries. We were something like 49th on the list of countries receiving asylum seekers. A quick Google search would dispel most myths, but sadly those who hate are not interested in educating themselves. It’s only those who love who seek to understand both sides of the argument so they can present a logical defence.

Ali is a shining example of how much asylum seekers and refugees can contribute to our society – just like founder of Westfield, Frank Lowy, and Hieu Van Le, the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia.

For the sake of our children and the future of this country, we need to reject media sound bites and political fear-mongering.

It doesn’t take much research to find out the truth.

Until we, as a society, change our attitude, our politicians will continue to blame the victim and build an Australia full of hatred and racial unrest. Personally, I don’t want that for Ali. I want him and future generations to live in a harmonious world.

Yesterday was a wonderful day because an unaccompanied minor asylum seeker has motivated himself to take on a part time job so he can pay rent and afford to go to school, do homework, and study in a foreign language without any parental pressure or guidance.

He completed his schooling without the kind of support and luxuries that so many Australian kids take for granted. His success is entirely his own. And if you think that’s the trait of a bad person, then you need to question your own definition of morality.

Rod Lewis is a volunteer mentor with the Baptist Care SA Refugee Services. He is an SA finalist in the Australian Local Hero Award – part of the 2014 Australian of the Year awards.

Source: http://indaily.com.au/opinion/2013/10/31/the-death-and-birth-of-hope/

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Filed under Life after detention, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Refugee looks back on ordeal of seeking asylum and being detained in Nauru

October 23, 2013

Mohammad Baqiri

Mohammad Baqiri speaking at a rally against offshore processing of asylum seekers last year in Melbourne.

When 10-year-old Mohammad Baqiri saw a bird flying across the sky, the significance had little bearing on his mind.

It was the first bird he – and the 150 people onboard the tiny fishing boat – had seen since it had left Indonesia seven days previously.

After asking his seasick, 36-year-old brother, Bani, he had little time to grasp the fact they were close to land because they were being circled by the Australian Navy.

“That’s when the real problems started,” said Mohammad, who had fled Afghanistan with his brother and auntie’s family.

“They got on their little boats and circled us and threw paper onto our boat saying ‘You guys need to go back to where you came from’.”

“[But] it wasn’t a proper boat, it was a fishing boat but a bit bigger, like the ones you see on the news,” he said.

Mohammad said that after a while people on the boat began to smash the hull in an attempt to sink the vessel.

Soon, to ensure the small fishing vessel could not be towed back, the boat was set alight.

“Everyone was panicking, running around and people started to throw themselves into the water,” he said.

“I remember seeing a lady jumping off the boat with her face down and she stayed there.”

Two women died and Mohammad’s nephew was unconscious for six hours.

According to Mohammad, it took the Navy two hours before all the people on board had been rescued.

It was 2001.

The clothes we were saved in, we had to stay in for two months.

Mohammad Baqiri


“From there they took us to Christmas Island,” he said.

Mohammad says the detention centre did not resemble the structure that stands there today.

“The centre wasn’t really properly built. There was a lack of medical assistance … the clothes we were saved in, we had to stay in for two months,” he said.

Mohammad and his family were told they would have to go to Nauru for their claims to be processed.

“We were really happy; why not if you’re going to process our cases?” he said.

“So, they flew us to Nauru and there we found out it was a lie.”

Mohammad’s escape from Afghanistan

In 2000, Mohammad’s parents felt they had no choice but to organise for their sons to escape from Afghanistan.

“We fled persecution, our lives were in danger, so we tried to leave Afghanistan,” Mohammad said.

He said his ethnic group, Hazara, was targeted by the Taliban.

We used to shower in salty water, the facilities, the toilets, everything was disgusting … a prison in Australia is better than the facilities in the detention centre.

Mohammad Baqiri


In order to fund Mohammad and Bani’s escape from Afghanistan, their parents sold their land.

Before arriving in Indonesia, the brothers had to make a number of border crossings by both boat and plane.

The Baqiris stayed in Indonesia for six months before they tried to come to Australia.

After their first attempt was foiled by local police, Mohammad and his family got on a boat to Australia two months later.

Less than four weeks after that, Mohammad would be flying to the Nauru detention centre.

Life in detention on Nauru

At just 21 square kilometres and made almost entirely of solid phosphate, Nauru – otherwise known as Pleasant Island – is the smallest republic in the world.

“I remember going there by plane and just thinking, ‘We’re going to live on a rock’,” he said.


According to Mohammad, the tropical island only had two types of weather – hot and sunny, or raining.

Mohammad said refugees were confined to the centre for two years in primitive conditions.

“We were living in long houses … they only had curtains that divided the rooms,” he said.

“We didn’t even have proper mattresses, so we slept on the ground and we just used blankets to sleep on.

“There was a lot of mosquitoes carrying malaria, and for a wound to be treated it would take a lot of time because the medical conditions weren’t that good.

“We used to shower in salty water, the facilities, the toilets, everything was disgusting … a prison in Australia is better than the facilities in the detention centre.

“The food … it was just horrible, some days we would just have bread. A good day was when we had eggs; that was like Christmas for us.”

According to Mohammad, the most prevalent medical conditions were psychological.

“Everyone who came there … they were all traumatised and suffered from anxiety.

“For people like my brother, waking up on the same floor for three years, they would go crazy – there’s nothing else to do there. I know a lot of people that lost their minds.”


Eighteen months into Mohammad’s detention, federal government officials began to inform asylum seekers they would not be allowed to settle in Australia.

“They said, ‘you guys need to go back’,” he said.

Following the announcement, Mohammad says demonstrations within the detention centre began to increase.

“[Especially] in that last year people were getting sick of doing small demonstrations because it wasn’t working,” he said.

A small number of detainees sewed their lips shut in protest, Mohammad says.

“People joined in every day and this is how it got out in the media,” he said.

After three weeks Australian officials capitulated and allowed the Baqiris to come to Australia.

But the news had failed to mollify Mohammad.

“At the time, people were in tears, they asked, ‘why didn’t you give us this outcome three years ago?’,” he said.

“The thing is, I wasted my childhood there, I wasn’t allowed to do anything, there was no education.”

Starting again in Australia

Once in Australia, the Baqiris were provided with temporary protection visas and told they would know the status of their claims within three years.

After three months of learning English in Melbourne and without completing a single year of primary school, 13-year-old Mohammad was enrolled in grade 8.

Friendship was hard for me, people excluded me from groups. People were telling me to go back to my country.

Mohammad Baqiri


“When I went to high school I didn’t really know English and I found it was a really different place, friendship was hard for me, people excluded me from groups,” he said.

“People were telling me to go back to my country.”

Bani and Mohammad stayed in Dandenong for a year, but after struggling to find work, Bani decided to take his brother to Shepparton to go to school there.

In 2008 he was given permanent residency.

Today Mohammad is a third-year business and law student at the University of Victoria. He is also studying a diploma in interpreting.

“When I finish, I want to get into immigration law and hopefully the interpreting can help me with that. I want to help people that were in my position,” he said.

Mohammad Baqiri at a rally

Mohammad (left) with others at a rally against offshore processing for asylum seekers last year in Melbourne.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-23/refugee-looks-back-on-time-in-nauru/5011582


Filed under Asylum Policy, Detention Centers, Life after detention, PNG/Pacific Solution, Talented Asylum Seekers

Barat Ali Batoor’s photo of asylum seekers wins inaugural Walkley Awards Photo of the Year

October 15, 2013 | The Australian

A POIGNANT photo taken by a Hazara refugee of asylum seekers emerging from below deck for a breath of fresh air has won the inaugural Photo of the Year at the Walkley Awards.

The image, shot by Barat Ali Batoor and published in The Global Mail, is the first of five winners to be announced in the prestigious annual awards, along with the winners of the Nikon-Walkley Portrait Prize and Nikon-Walkley Community/Regional Prize.

To view a gallery of finalists’ work, visit www.flickr.com/photos/walkleyfoundation/sets

This year is the first time a “photo of the year” has been selected from all entrants to the awards to embody the year in news.

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied

Barat Ali Batoor’s winning photo, “The First Day at Sea”. Source: Supplied


Batoor began documenting the displacement of his own Hazara people in 2005 as they fled from Afghanistan and Pakistan to safety abroad.

The Hazara are a Persian-speaking Shia Muslim minority that is the third-largest ethnic group in Arghanistan.

In September 2012, he became part of the story, fleeing Kabul with his camera in hand. Travelling with 92 other passengers hidden below deck to escape detection by the Water Police, he shot a selection of images capturing the long route through Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and by sea to Australia.

“It is a journey of sudden midnight departures, long road trips, surreptitious transactions, treks through jungles, and terror at sea,” Batoor said, of his essay.

“It is a journey that mixes fear, boredom and extreme loneliness. A journey that sometimes ends in joy, sometimes in despair and sometimes in death. Few people – except for the refugees themselves – ever get to see this reality.”

Batoor’s boat ran aground on the rocks and his camera was ruined but remarkably, his images survived. He was then detained and robbed by Indonesian authorities but escaped. Many of the other people he met on his arduous journey didn’t survive.

“In the end, I was one of the lucky ones,” he said. “Unlike most Hazaras, I was quickly found to be a refugee and resettled in Melbourne. In the meantime, I kept taking photos … my hope is that, at the very least, these pictures can tell their story.”

- See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/barat-ali-batoor8217s-photo-of-asylum-seekers-wins-inaugural-walkley-awards-photo-of-the-year/story-e6frg6n6-1226740347000#sthash.DznYYUKd.dpuf


Filed under Talented Asylum Seekers

The blind eye of UNHCR Indonesia – writes in detail an asylum seeker from Indonesia

September 08, 2013


When a person under persecution flees his country, he automatically becomes orphan.  There is a good saying that country is mother and a person without country becomes orphan. Life becomes miserable as an undocumented stranger in other countries where a human’s basic rights and needs are not given to him. An asylum seeker’s life is a miserable life in real. 

 Asylum seeking is an old issue which was focussed upon for the first time by the international coordinated efforts through League of Nations in early 20th century. The purpose was inter alia to protect human rights and render humanitarian assistance and resettlement solutions to the persecuted people fleeing their countries – whom I call the orphans. After establishment of United Nations Organization under its popular Charter in 1945, other refugee rights promoting organizations were founded and reinforced. UNHCR is one of such entities which is mandated to promote and run programs for protection of asylum seekers and refugees.

 Indonesia is a transit area for thousands of asylum seekers annually whose final destination is predominantly Australia. But among them are the asylum seekers that prefer to stay in Indonesia and approach UNHCR with a hope to get assistance to return to a safe normal life.

 As the only main UN entity for refugees, UNHCR is the first and the last hope of the asylum seekers that avoid joining the dangerous boat journey. Most of them had to flee their countries, to join the world of orphanhood, because of persecution, violence and life threats. They lost many things like peace, family members, honour, career and country. Has the UNHCR in Indonesia played a good role as their first and the last hope? As one of the asylum seekers my answer to this question is negative unfortunately. Not only this but also because of poor management, low performance capacity of some staffs and inadequate human and material resources, in several cases, UNHCR has exacerbated the already vulnerable mental and physical conditions of detained asylum seekers particularly.

 One of the biggest problems is UNHCR’s unbalanced and disorganised attention towards different Immigration Detention Centres. It has contributed to creation of a big difference, in terms of interviews and case processing, among IDCs in several locations. For example asylum seekers in Tanjun Pinang and Medan IDCs are interviewed within 1-3 months after registration, but those in Jakarta and Surabaya IDCs are usually interviewed within 6-12 months after registration. Similarly the time period taken to process cases and issue results after interview considerably depends on the manner and even nationality of the UNHCR Case Officers. In this way many unlucky asylum seekers have to wait for years in detention until they get refugee status from UNHCR. The Luck-UNHCR inter-relation clarifies that UNHCR has two eyes. One is blind and the other is sighted. Those in front of the sighted eye are lucky and those in front of the blind eye are misfortunate. But why should they suffer when their bad luck has roots in the incapability and incompetency of UNHCR? Actually their bad luck can be turned into good luck by curing the blind eye of UNHCR through better management of the resources, fair allocation of staff, capacity building and more accountability of Case Officers.

 UNHCR’s inaccessibility and selfish policies towards detained asylum seekers make their lives more miserable. While the life is already very troublesome for them because of poor behaviour and bad treatment of the Indonesian Immigration staffs. The fact that Indonesia has not signed the Refugee Convention is always enough reason for the Immigration Officers to ignore asylum seekers’ basic needs and treat them as criminals or undignified people. They do not want to understand that the asylum seekers are honoured personalities back in their countries and being an asylum seeker is not a choice for them. In this situation in detention, UNHCR’s inaccessibility and incapability exacerbates their anguish.

<p>Barat Ali Batoor</p>

A local government official flicks through the UNHCR files of asylum seekers registered in his subdistrict. PHOTO: BARAT ALI BATOOR Source: theglobalmail

 For asylum seekers in detention, contact to UNHCR has become an impossible job. Weekly, on Fridays, two hours contact time is allocated to the total asylum seekers and refugees. There are around 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia. If half of this amount try to contact UNHCR on a Friday and if each successful person talks for 12 minutes, out of 5,000 only 10 can get the contact. In percentage there is only 0.2% chance of making the contact which is equivalent to no chance. I have tried several Fridays, but even by saying prayers and using certain magical words I have not been able to make a single contact. I am sure even the best magician in the world cannot make the contact for you! As far as the general email inbox of UNHCR (insja@unhcr.org) is concerned, I doubt if any one is assigned to check it properly and respond to the incoming correspondence. As far as I remember, none of the emails that my friends and I have sent to this inbox have received any response nor have there been any outcomes resulting from them. On the other hand, the Case Officers deny to give their contact number and email address to their interviewees, claiming that they are not allowed to do so. So the detained asylum seekers cannot receive information regarding their case nor can they provide any new vital information and concern for the case. I would like to ask UNHCR and concerned entities if this is fair. Should a detained anguished asylum seeker have the right to contact the office mandated to listen to his concerns and process his case? After interview if his family members have been recently killed in a bomb explosion or suicide attack or targeted killing, how can he add this to his case? How should he inform the Case Officer or UNHCR that he is going crazy in the ambiguous world of asylum seekers because his dearest ones have been killed recently? Does this type of new condition created after interview have importance for UNHCR? Principally this type of information should be added to the case which definitely helps to make a correct decision. If the information is important then how the contact should be made?

 It is a weird situation. Instead of having access to lawyers and facilities for consulting and organizing cases, asylum seekers are even further deprived of contacts with their case processing organization.

 If there is a will, the problems can be solved by UNHCR. They should increase the days and hours of contact and assign more Case Officers to listen to the issues and concerns. In this way the contacts to UNHCR will be made easily which can lead to a better condition for the Case Officers to give their contact numbers to their interviewees unhesitatingly. Because there will not be a flood of irrelevant phone calls to them. There will be other accessible relevant contact points available in UNHCR. Thus a proper communication between Case Officers and their interviewees will be insured.

 In response to such queries I have been usually told that UNHCR does not have adequate human resources. But this point cannot be a satisfactory justification anymore. It is a decade that UNHCR Indonesia operates with high number of asylum seekers. So the administrative needs and matters should have been solved by now. Its a long period. UNHCR Indonesia should get approval of enough funds through effective and efficient reasoning and proper justification of the need. Asylum seekers in Indonesia has a long history and has turned into a permanent phenomenon. Unfortunately the issue of inadequate resources is being used as a mere justification instead of seeking solution for it. Is it fair to let the asylum seekers suffer because of poor capacity of UNHCR? Why is not this capacity developed?

 It is one year that I am hearing about policies of UNHCR Indonesia repeatedly. These policies sound very rigid and non-humanitarian which show incompatibility with UNHCR’s mandated roles. The asylum seekers suffer from post-incident trauma and are worried about their families remained in crisis. On the other hand, they are treated inhumanely by Immigration Officers. In this bad situation, instead of helping them urgently, UNHCR’s shortcomings and oversight cause them to remain in detention for longer ambiguous periods. Remained with no other option they conduct hunger-strike to communicate and receive attention and to say that they are forgotten and the blind eye can not see them. But their final attempt for communication is suppressed by UNHCR’s policy. According to this policy UNHCR does not visit those on hunger-strike. So they are further abandoned in the dire situation. I understand that this policy is designed to prevent other potential hunger-strikes. But it would be fair only if the asylum seekers had other possible ways of contact and they were not compelled to conduct hunger strikes merely to communicate their concerns and cry out that they are victims in the unbalanced attention of UNHCR towards the detention centres.

 While Australia has increased its refugee quota for Indonesia to 700 per year, UNHCR’s working manner still remains slow to the extent that some asylum seekers have to wait for a year to be interviewed. Those being interviewed within 1-2 months are the lucky ones because they are in front of the sighted eye. Why is one eye of UNHCR blind? This can also be part of a policy. One month ago a credible person told me that UNHCR might not be able to provide 700 refugees to Australia this year because its process is very slow. I thought it was totally unfair if UNHCR might not manage to meet the quota while thousands of deservers are crazily waiting to get a pass through the refugee process. This maybe a wrong forecast and very pessimistic view, but one thing is sure that UNHCR in Indonesia tries to keep the number of refugees under a limit. In this process the victimized asylum seekers should be deliberately ignored for long periods. Therefore the slow working manner and lack of will to improve the system might have connections to this policy. The reason to this policy can be financial, operational and political. Maybe UNHCR thinks that if the asylum seekers were given refugee status in a fairly quick process, other asylum seekers around the world would be encouraged to migrate to Indonesia. This means more refugees, more asylum seekers and more load of works on the poorly organized weak structure of UNHCR. This policy makes a lesson of the asylum seekers in Indonesia to send a discouraging message to others. This is totally inhumane and victimizes the genuine asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia.

The problem is that UNHCR does not want to solve the problems by confronting them but instead turns a blind eye to them. The current working approach and continuation of unjust policies is not the solution to the issues. They do not suit the humanitarian nature of its works. I know that UNHCR’s work is not easy. It is full of problems and challenges. But they should not be used as excuse to do improper things. There is always a proper way of doing things. UNHCR should change and promote its approaches according to the need.


Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, HAS Exclusive, UNHCR

“Who are the Hazaras?”, Asked the Wondering Australian

August 17, 2013 | Hazara Netizens Watch

“Who are the Hazaras?” came a question in a subtly taunting tone by an Australian man walking by as we lit candles in the memory of more than 130 Hazara victims, killed in two bomb blasts targeting the Hazara-Shia-dominated neighbourhood, Alamdar Road. The two bomb blasts in Quetta, Pakistan killed at least 130 people including two Australian Hazaras. Over 200 still lie in different hospitals; with many permanently maimed, and a number of them burnt beyond recognition.

While the rest of the world slept peacefully, some because they were unaware and others because they might well be indifferent, 87 of the dead bodies lay on Alamdar Road as their families and community sat awake in a sit-in protest for justice. Thousands of protesters who were joined by women and children sat there; braving the frigid cold worsened by severe rain. Nothing could shake their resolve as nothing would ever lessen their anguish and grief unless justice was served.

Even though the protest was initially met by inattention and unconcern, their fortitude and perseverance eventually started attracting attention. It was not long before Pakistanis of all backgrounds joined the protest; outnumbering even the Hazaras and Shias. It was for the first time in the history of Pakistan that everyone participated in a protest, which was for a racially and religiously distinct group. Here was a new history in the making. Here was a protest which was history’s most nonviolent and peaceful one with dead bodies lying un-buried unless justice was dispensed.

The Hazaras are one of the most targeted communities in Pakistan mainly because they carry distinct Mongolian racial features and religious belief: Shia Islam. They have been shot in cold blood, have been slaughtered, their skilled and professionals workers slain, students killed on their way to universities, pilgrims lined up and murdered. Not even their women are spared now just because a religiously extremist group, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, which wants to drive every single one of them out of Quetta and Pakistan, detests them.

Not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan the Hazaras have long suffered racial and religious based discriminations.

Despite the brutal violence they have been subject to, the Hazaras have never reacted violently. They have adopted peace and nonviolence as their response to the murderous onslaught. They have lost thousands of their people throughout these years, but they have always come with nonviolent means: This historic sit-in protest in Quetta for four days was its infallible proof acknowledged and appreciated by people throughout the world.

While we sat and watched our heroic community beside the dead bodies for 80+ hours protesting peacefully for their basic right; that is the right to live, tears flowed down my mother’s cheek as she confided something into me. She started by “ how will her mother explain to the little child that her father is no longer alive?” The seven-year-old girl, whose father decided on that night that they should quickly eat and maybe watch TV together?

He had not started eating yet as he heard the first explosion. He got up from dastarkhan (table–cloth) and said in panic, “The explosion sounded very close” and just like many others, he too ran to the scene to help. As he got there to help the victims of the blast, second blast ripped through the crowd, and you guessed it right: It took his life. Ghulam Rasool is no more. Who knew his family would never see him again, they would not share the table again, and they would never be able to watch TV together. Like the cold weather, her blood froze in her veins.

But the story does not end here. “The painful part is not his death alone,” explained my mother to me. “It is rather the fact that, because of the dangerous proximity to the blast, Ghulam Rasool’s body has disappeared like 16 other bodies. No one has been able to find them. Like Ghulam’s family who sits there and looking heavenwards for help, I am devoid of all emotion too. I just think of that seven-year old girl who anxiously awaits her father’s return.” Tears continued to fall from mum’s eyes as she says, the seven-year-old asks her mother, “ Mum its too cold outside, do you want me to go and ask dad to close his shop and come eat with us now”.

But I am still thinking about the question that stranger asked. Who are the Hazaras? I really wanted to answer him but I was busy lighting candle for the vigil.

I wanted to answer his question that continued bothering me. Who are the Hazaras? Hazaras are the ones who, after witnessing history’s worst violence in Quetta sat in protest with dead bodies lying for four days in chilling cold and unstoppable rain. They kept the bodies un-buried even though it is religiously sanctioned to bury the dead as quickly as possible. Hazaras are the ones who despite all the persecution continue to practice nonviolence, remaining peaceful that is acknowledged by everyone in Pakistan and world. Hazaras are the ones whose innocent children sit among the protesters; desperately waiting for their father to be seen. Yet Hazaras are the ones whose response to all violence is nonviolence, and all brutality reciprocated by humanity. That is what the Hazaras actually are.

But I thought just like many others, this person might not care about the genocide of a community. But he, like the comity of nations, must reassess his priorities if genocide is taking place right before his naked eye in 21st century. The century that promises humanity its pinnacle in every aspect of life, from justice to prosperity. 

That he asked this question so casually explains why Hazaras keep suffering. And a community facing genocide is perhaps the most bone-chillingly straightforward answer to his question.

The article was originally published here: http://hnwonline.net/2013/08/who-are-the-hazaras-the-man-asked/


Filed under Hazara Persecution

Rudd Will Stop the Boats at the Cost of Hazara Lives

August 12, 2013

Protester hold placards against Australia’s new immigration policy, 27th July, Melbourne. –Photo by Tanver, used under a Creative Commons (CC) license.

The trend in refugee resettlement in Australia a few years ago was something like this: if you were a Hazara, you had somewhere in the order of 90% chance of being accepted as a refugee and resettled in Australia. Fast forward five years, and the situation is completely different. If you are refugee, and you come to Australia on a boat, you have virtually no chance of being resettled in Australia, albeit you are a member of one of the most persecuted communities in the world.

At first thought, this dramatic change in Australia’s immigration policy would indicate that the situation in countries from where the Hazaras were fleeing would have improved significantly and so their claims of being persecuted in their homelands no longer remained true. But a few Google searches on the internet and a quick visit to the social networking websites show rather the opposite. Where on one hand the persecution of this minority group in Afghanistan continues unabated, on the other hand, in Pakistan the severity of attacks on Hazaras has increased year by year.

So, if the situation of these would-be-asylum-seekers has not changed, what has actually changed that has resulted in such a sharp decline in the acceptance rate of Hazaras as refugees?

Faced with an intense pressure from the opposition on the issue of boat arrivals, the Labour government had to resort to one of the harshest measures it has taken in recent years to stop the boats coming to our shores. Last month’s deal with PNG followed by a MoU with Nauru will see anyone coming to Australia on a boat sent to the Pacific nations for processing and eventual resettlement, should their refugee claims be accepted.

If there was any ambiguity about the intention of our government, the timing of this latest immigration policy announcement should clarify that. With an election looming, the best our Prime Minister could do to assure Australia he is tough enough of a man to stop the boats and protect our borders from “illegals” was to introduce the latest of our government’s punitive policies. This may as well win him some votes, but at the cost of hundreds of lives; lives that will not be lost in the sea between Indonesia and Christmas Island, but in the streets of Quetta and Kabul, lives that would no longer be able to escape death and would remain trapped in the ghettos that Hazara localities in those countries have become.

Had the Rudd government been serious about tackling the issue of people smuggling and boat arrivals, it would have taken immediate steps to take the issue back to the source countries. Despite repeated calls by the Australian Hazara communities to engage in strong dialogue with the Pakistani government on the issue of Hazara genocide, a working mechanism involving the UN which could ensure that the lives of Hazaras in Pakistan are safeguarded by the Pakistani government, and an accessible means for Hazaras to register with the UNHCR in Quetta, what we have seen is a rather reluctant approach in the form of a telephonic conversation between our Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterpart, a Federal Minster replying that Australia can only do as much as it has done while our forces are still based in neighboring Afghanistan, and the repulsive act of working with Pakistani agencies on ethnic profiling at airports around Pakistan so that the exodus of any Hazara from Pakistan is made as difficult as possible.

It is evident that in the wake of unchanging miserable situation for Hazaras, all that has changed is the attitude of Labour and our once rational Prime Minister. The man who had abolished TPVs and closed down detention centres has now adopted the policies of his predecessor. The care and compassion that he had urged Australians to show towards people fleeing war and persecution are what he is now refusing to display himself. In the name of war against people smuggling, he has now made the vulnerable asylum seekers pay the ultimate price.

The PNG and Nauru “punishment” camps could potentially stop Hazaras from getting on boats. The new policy might as well help Labour win the forthcoming election. But the serious repercussions of this policy on the lives of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed every asylum – seeker and refugee from any corner of the world, will result in an image of our nation being portrayed in the civilized world as that of an unjust, inhumane and cruel nation, not to mention the unavoidably negative image of the Labour party in the minds of thousands of Hazaras in Australia.

Source: http://hnwonline.net/2013/08/rudd-will-stop-the-boats-at-the-cost-of-hazara-lives/#sthash.37MICC85.dpuf

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Filed under Asylum Policy, Hazara Persecution, PNG/Pacific Solution

Brothers drift to different shores

August 08, 2013

Tahir Mohseni

Tahir Mohseni, 19, outside his Dandenong share house, spent six months in detention before a High Court challenge killed off the proposed Malaysia people swap. He now lives and studies in Victoria. Picture: Aaron Francis Source: TheAustralian

SHABBIR Mohseni arrived at Christmas Island last Friday knowing of the Australian government’s stated intention to send him and other unaccompanied minors to Papua New Guinea “in due course”.

But the 16-year-old also knew that when his older brother faced being sent to Malaysia in 2011 the threat never eventuated and now Tahir Mohseni, 19, is living and studying in Melbourne.

Mr Mohseni and Shabbir are the eldest of six children of a former tailor and his wife living in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the scene of persistent and intensifying violence and recognised as a dangerous place for Shia Muslims.

Mr Mohseni is happy and relieved his younger brother is safe on dry land and in the care of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, though he is worried Shabbir may not get to start the life he hoped for him. At his share house in Dandenong, Mr Mohseni pores over news reports for clues about whether the government will really send teenagers to PNG. “I am not sure what will happen with the government, if the system is (going to be) changed,” he says. “The election is coming, everything could be going to change.”

Shabbir has told his family he would rather risk being transferred to PNG under Kevin Rudd’s new rules than try to survive by himself in Indonesia or return to a life in fear of Sunni militants.

Mr Mohseni knows from experience that Australia’s asylum-boat policy can change very fast, and the fortunes of those in detention with it. He was 17 in May 2011 when he boarded a boat with 31 other asylum-seekers and a kitten near Jakarta and sailed into Julia Gillard’s Malaysia Solution.

In six months of detention on Christmas Island and in Darwin, he feared expulsion to Kuala Lumpur, but a High Court challenge killed off the proposed Malaysia people swap and he is now a permanent resident, studying welding and working part-time jobs.

He sends a small amount of money to his parents and four youngest siblings in Pakistan.

“My father had to leave his shop because of threats — they are living almost in hiding, it is very hard for them,” he said.

Mr Mohseni said he warned Shabbir about Labor’s new rules denying boatpeople settlement.

“Before Shabbir got on the boat last week, I told him about the new program to send everyone to PNG — I said, ‘If you come here that will happen with you.’ He told me: ‘If I work here in Indonesia I will have a very hard time, no one cares what happens to you, but if I go to PNG it will be more better because I will be in the care of Australia.’ “

Mr Mohseni had not heard from his brother since that phone call and was relieved yesterday to see a photo of him being brought ashore by the Australian navy at Flying Fish Cove.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/election-2013/brothers-drift-to-different-shores/story-fn9qr68y-1226692409712

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Filed under Asylum Policy, Life after detention, PNG/Pacific Solution