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Pakistan: A State of Siege

January 28, 2014

Shaheed Irfan Ali Khudi - A Hazara peace activist slayed on Jan 10, 2013 in a suicide blast in Quetta

Shaheed Irfan Ali Khudi – A Hazara peace activist slayed on Jan 10, 2013 in a suicide blast in Quetta. PHOTO: Muzafar Ali

Madeeha Syed speaks to Human Rights Watch’s Ali Dayan Hasan about the state and predicament of the Hazara in Quetta

A year after the deadly attacks on the Hazara community, what is the situation now?

While Shias across Pakistan have faced increasingly vicious attacks, a disproportionate number of attacks – the latest being the Jan 21st attack on a pilgrim’s bus in Mastung – have targeted the small Hazara community. Of Shias killed across Pakistan in 2012, around a quarter of the victims were Quetta Hazaras. In 2013, a little under half of those killed were from that community. It is true that major attacks on the scale of January and February 2013 have not taken place since last year. But major attacks are only one aspect of the crisis faced by the community. Survivors and family members of victims describe the effects of a campaign of killings that has targeted all segments of the Hazara community. Hazaras live a ghetto existence, fearful of going about the normal business of life. Hazara religious pilgrims, students, shopkeepers, vegetable sellers, doctors and other professionals have been targeted leading to not just widespread fear but increasingly restricted movement leading to a ghettoisation of community members, increasing economic hardship and curtailed access to education.

How many are opting to flee their homes? And where are they going?

Large numbers are fleeing Pakistan in panic and seeking asylum abroad, even risking their lives in the process. Unable to cope with death stalking them at every turn, many hundreds have fled Quetta for Karachi or other parts of Pakistan. Yet further hundreds have fled Pakistan altogether. Those fleeing usually seek to go to Australia risking a dangerous sea journey that has repeatedly proved fatal. In April 2013, some 60 Hazaras died when their boat sunk in Indonesian waters enroute Australia. These journeys are not only dangerous and expensive, they are often deadly. Almost 1,000 people have died on the crossing from Indonesia to Australia over the last decade — scores of them Hazaras from Pakistan.

What is the Hazara’s relationship with the Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan?

It is a complicated relationship. It would be correct to say that the Frontier Corps has done a better job in recent months of preventing the sorts of large-scale attacks we saw a year ago. And whatever reservations the Hazara community may have about elements of the FC, the fact remains that it is the lead security agency in Quetta.

But the problem remains that the FC is unable to disarm the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) or meaningfully protect the Hazara from attacks. Further, it does not help that a small but significant body of opinion with Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies appear to view the Hazara with suspicion — as “agents of Iran” and “untrustworthy.”

And while there is no formal policy of tolerance for extremist elements such as the LJ at work, it is not possible to say yet with any certainty that there are no extremist sympathisers within lead law enforcement and security agencies. The matter is further complicated because elements from the security apparatus can be complicit in extremist attacks or turn a blind eye to them not out of conviction but also out of fear. But the fact remains that the FC has to be part of the solution.

There is a new government in Balochistan and more and more people have been raising their voice in support of the Hazara community. Has that brought about any changes at all?

While large-scale attacks have not taken place since the new Balochistan government took over in June, it remains the case that Pakistan’s federal government, the criminal justice system and the country’s military and its intelligence agencies continue to play the role of unconcerned bystanders as Shia across the country are slaughtered. Pakistan’s political leaders, law enforcement agencies, administrative authorities, judiciary and military need to prevent these attacks as they would any other threat to the state. Pakistan’s authorities must act urgently to end the state of deadly siege the Hazara and other Shia communities find themselves living under.

The Hazara are being killed not because they are party to a conflict but because they are helpless targets of murderous rage. They are killed not in combat but as they go about their daily lives — praying, selling and buying vegetables, boarding busses to go to work or college or travelling.

Of course, the Balochistan government has to be given both the benefit of the doubt and a fair chance. CM Malik is a highly respected figure. But equally, it remains true, as was the case with the previous provincial government, that the Balochistan provincial administration is only nominally responsible for security. That authority rests with the military through the FC and the intelligence agencies operating in the province. Unless these actors adopt a zero tolerance policy towards the LJ and other extremist actors, there is little the provincial government can do.

Has anyone to date ever been held accountable for any incidence of violence against the Hazara community?

There are sporadic crackdowns. Extremists are arrested. Some are even convicted. But often they are released without trial or conviction after a crisis has passed. Several high profile convicts have escaped from police and military custody in inexplicable circumstances in the past. The courts, even when they have been proactive in other areas such as disappearances, have been hesitant to provide protection to the Hazara or hold their attackers accountable. There has been no meaningful accountability.

Why are the Hazaras targeted specifically and so often?

Hazaras are generally unarmed, easily identifiable and utterly helpless — in short, easy to kill. Of course, they are being targeted as part of a broader exercise in targeting all Pakistani Shias but it is equally true that the Hazara suffer from double jeopardy — being ethnically distinct in addition to being Shia.

Source: http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/27/pakistan-state-siege

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Filed under Hazara Persecution, Human Rights and Refugee Activists

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

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

The night the refugee boat sank: victims tell their stories

June 04, 2013

By: , south Asia correspondent

On 21 June (the date has been rectified here) 2012 a boat carrying refugees on the 6,000-mile journey from Pakistan to Australia sank with the loss of 94 lives. The Guardian spoke to the survivors and tells the story of international criminal networks and a web of corruption across the far east. Their accounts reveal the plight of desperate refugees forced to pay exorbitant sums.

Refugees rescued by the JPO Vulpecula

There was almost no warning. The boat had stopped about 10 minutes earlier. Since then it had rocked gently in the swell, settling lower in the water. Its Indonesian crew shouted to one another, increasingly agitated.

On the roof of the open wooden outsize fishing boat, Mohammed Ishaq was shaken awake by another refugee. “Get up, the boat is sinking,” he was told. But even as he stood, the 31-year-old Afghan-born Pakistani felt the deck tilting sharply under his feet. He slid, fell and hit the water.

It was 24 June 2012. The boat was 107 nautical miles from the nearest land. Of the 204 refugees aboard, almost all from Afghanistan or Pakistan, 94 would die.

It was one of the worst of the growing number of sinkings involving illegal immigrants attempting the 6,000-mile journey to Australia from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only now can the full story be told.

On one level it involves thousands of men, women and children, transnational criminal networks, tens of millions of dollars and a corroding web of corruption across the far east and further afield. On another, it means hundreds of drowned fathers, brothers, sons, daughters, mothers and babies, and thousands of bereaved relatives.

Only a week before Ishaq was plunged into the water, 93 died when another boat making its way to Christmas Island had sunk. There have been many more shipwrecks since, Afghan community representatives in Australia say, in which around 300 men, women and children have drowned. There are others which go unreported. Up to 600 have died in the past two or three years, they say, though they point out that the true figure is impossible to know.

This summer thousands more will attempt the perilous journey.

Officials from the governments of Pakistan, from where most of the refugees come, and of Indonesia, through which most of the refugees transit, privately admit they cannot stem the flow. Australia is trying to discourage prospective asylum seekers with new laws, offshore processing centres and with offers to take more refugees who choose to enter the country legally. But such measures appear to have little impact. The only barriers currently are natural – not man-made.

Ishaq’s story


Ishaq

Ishaq’s story is typical. The 31-year-old comes from the seething Pakistani port city of Karachi, where his family have lived since emigrating from a rural area of central Afghanistan 25 years ago. He grew up in the middle class Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood, happy to be away from his turbulant homeland. Years in school and college passed without incident. Then, shortly after his marriage, security in the city began to deteriorate rapidly. Ishaq became a target.

Like most of the refugees with him on the boat, Ishaq was a Hazara, an ethnic minority in Afghanistan and Pakistan whose distinctive features and devotion to the Shia strand of Islam in countries dominated by Sunni Muslims has long meant marginalisation. But in Karachi, and the western city of Quetta where a large Hazara community is based, discrimination has turned deadly.

In both cities squads of Sunni militants have begun attacking Shias, and particulary Hazaras. The violence has intensified each month. Two of Ishaq’s relatives were shot, one paralysed from the waist down. Ishaq himself received threats. In late 2011, he decided, reluctantly, he had to leave. “Of course I didn’t want to go. I had my family, my wife, my business [a corner shop]. But I had no choice,” he told the Guardian.

Ishaq chose Australia because it was the “only country” he knew “that was accepting refugees”. Getting to western Europe was too dangerous. Other states in the region did not offer asylum. In Australia, Ishaq knew too he would find friends and relatives amid the growing Hazara community.

Friends in Quetta put Ishaq in touch with “people” who could organise his trip. He would pay in instalments, with $4,000 paid up front to reach Malaysia and then another $3,000 to get from there to Indonesia. He said goodbye to his parents and wife and left in the first week of 2012, on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. That year, 320 Shia Muslims were killed in Pakistan.

Ali Hasaan Kaka


Ali Hasaan Kaka

In Quetta itself, another family was bracing itself for separation. Ali Hasaan Kaka, a 38-year-old bank clerk with a love for Hazaran cooking and practical jokes, and his 32-year-old cousin, Imran, were spending a last evening at dinner with their extended family, his sister in law remembers. The pair had paid $14,000 to an agent for the trip. “We all ate together and chatted a lot about what future may hold for us. Ali hoped that after a few month in Australia, all of us will go there. My sister was scared at his idea of leaving Pakistan in such a risky manner but encouraged him to go in search of greener pastures,” she told the Guardian.

To the north, high on the Pakistani border with Afghanistan, dozens of other young men were also preparing to depart for Australia. They too were Hazaras, living in Parachinar, a remote, rough town in the volatile semi-autonomous tribal agency of Kurram. Here too sectarian violence was intense. A report by the Pakistani federal investigation agency seen by the Guardian, describes a meeting in September 2011. Five men from Kurram travelled to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, for a meeting with an agent. Between then and January 2012, the men paid a total of over $90,000 to the agent for sending 10 of their sons, cousins and brothers to Australia “for work”. One was Abdul Aziz, a 45-year-old illiterate labourer and father of five.

“Seeing the persecution of Shias in our city, he borrowed $10,000 and left for Thailand en route to Australia,” his brother-in-law said in a telephone interview from Parachinar.

The agent, investigators in Pakistan say, ran the westernmost end of a massive operation with contacts all the way to Australia. They called it the Tajir Travel Agency, after the shop in the frontier city of Peshawar which acted as a front office for the network.

Malaysia to Indonesia

When Ishaq arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport he bought a sim card and called a number he had been given by traffickers in Karachi. Within an hour, a Malaysian man linked, according to the Pakistani report, to the Tajir Travel Agency, had picked him up. The agency’s key operator here was from the Pashtun tribes along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, the Pakistani investigators say. After a night alone in a house in the Malaysian capital, Ishaq was joined by a dozen other Hazaras who had followed an identical path.

Back home, his family paid another $3,000 to their contact and a week later, the group were driven to a beach three hours from Kuala Lumpur. They boarded a boat and, after four hours on calm seas at night, landed in Indonesia. Taken to an airport, they then flew to Jakarta. With no visas, they went underground in a private home in the city of Bogor nearby.

Ishaq’s parents had trouble finding the $5,000 needed for onward travel. He stayed in the house for five months, sleeping with up to a dozen others in two rented rooms.

Eventually, after five months, his family wired the dollars. Then his contact with the network called. Get to a shopping centre in Jakarta, she said. At the mall, dozens of other young Afghan and Pakistani men were waiting. Another call directed him to take a taxi to a new address – a bus stand. Four coaches were loaded with 200 young Afghan men and driven into the night.

Among the refugees on the buses that night were Ali Hasaan Kaka, the former banker who had left Quetta to seek “greener pastures” two months earlier, and his cousin. Kaka had made a final call home. “He spoke to my sister from Indonesia, saying, ‘Please don’t be worried if my phone does not work as we will be leaving for Australia very soon.’ We all were nervous and happy at the same time,” his sister-in-law remembered

The fact that a convoy carrying 200 or more men without visas could drive across the crowded centre of Java even at night indicates that local security forces had been paid off, said one western official based in Indonesia.

The man organising the onward travel of Ishaq and the others, according to evidence heard in an Indonesian court, was Dawood Amiri, an ethnic Hazara who, like his clients, had fled Pakistan and come to Indonesia hoping to cross to Australia before being detained a year before. On his release, prosecutors said, he had become a significant “second-rank” player in the trafficking business and had organised three previous sailings, without incident. He was the local representative of the Tajir Travel Agency.

Western investigators working on trafficking say that such “franchises” are common. Refugees heading from Asia to Europe are passed from network to network, each a separate organisation. But in the far east the networks are more integrated, acting as a “courier system” through which “packages” – people – can be moved along chains of trusted intermediaries. In each location, local representatives develop the relationships with the authorities that are needed to smooth the way.

Though much larger sums went to higher officials to allow entry of refugees at airports or in return for information about planned anti-trafficking operations, Amiri told investigators, each police checkpoint on the 150-mile drive across Java required a bribe of $200 or more.


The route taken by the refugees

At sea

With local authorities take care of, the refugees reached a beach on the south coast of Java at around midnight. There were smaller boats waiting to take them to a larger vessel, miles offshore. As they approached the boat that was supposed to take them to Christmas Island, Ishaq knew that his worst fears had been realised.

“There were men everywhere, all over the deck, shouting to us to go back, that there was no space, that the boat would sink, that we would drown,” he remembered. “I was terrified. But how could we go back?”

Pushed aboard by the press of men behind him, he fought his way through the crowd and grabbed one of the last life jackets. “The old and the weak were pushed aside,” he remembered. The traffickers had taken his mobile phone. He had just his clothes, passport, wallet and a few hundred dollars.

At dawn, the ship got under way. The refugees saw a few fishing boats. Then nothing. The few bottles of water, supply of tinned cheese and bags of dry noodles on board were grossly inadequate for 200 men for a five or six-day journey.

One of the refugees on the boat was Abdul Aziz, the Parachinar labourer with five children. After three days at sea, he used the crew’s single satellite phone, to call home.

“He spoke to us from the boat on 21 June,” his brother-in-law said. “He said, ‘We are leaving for Australia and I will call you from there.’ When he spoke to his only daughter, then six years old, he promised to bring her dolls and clothes.”

But that night a crew member fell asleep and allowed the engine and the pumps to run out of fuel. The hold of the leaky, overburdened boat rapidly filled with water.

“It happened very fast. The boat just capsized. Everyone went in the water. People were very scared and shouting, trying to grab each other, fighting and sinking and pulling each other down,” Ishaq said.

It was around 2am and very dark. There were no life rafts, and only half the refugees had managed to grab one of the worn-out life belts heaped in the boat’s hold.

Though 30 or 40 people managed to clamber on to the hull, the rest were left in the waves. Almost none could swim. Ishaq, treading water, tightened the strings on his own life jacket as a current drew him away.

“I thank God there were no women or children on the boat, just young men and teenagers,” he said.

After a few hours, the strings on his lifejacket parted. He held it with one hand and swam with the other. Bodies floated on the water. Men shouted to each other, then their voices faded as they sank beneath the waves. “We prayed and cried and tried to encourage each other. They died before my eyes. My own hopes were fading,” he said.

After nearly 24 hours in the water, a plane flew low overhead, but dropped a raft full of supplies too far away for the exhausted refugees. A second aircraft dropped an inflatable tube. Ishaq hung on to it. An hour later an Australian naval vessel picked up survivors and took them Christmas Island.

“I was looking for my friends but there were so few of us. So many had drowned,” he said. Among them was the food-loving banker Ali Hasaan Kaka, his cousin, and Ali Abdul Aziz, the labourer from Parachinar.

A week later, another boat would sink, this time with the loss of about 65 asylum-seekers. During the last days of August, about 100 heading to Christmas Island may have drowned in two incidents. Other boats have simply disappeared. More than 200 died in March when another vessel sank, according to reports in Pakistan. Last month news reached Quetta and Parachinar of another shipwreck in which about 60 died.

Aftermath

The only good news is that the Tajir Travel Agency network has been wound up. One member, a Pakistani policeman, was arrested in Quetta. Four others were picked up a genteel neighbourhood on the outskirts of Islamabad last month. They confessed to receiving £700,000 from their clients. Investigators told the Guardian this figure was a fraction of the total.

Two other members of the network were detained in Indonesia. One, Dawood Amiri, who organised the 21 June sailing, was sentenced in February to six years in prison. When he was arrested 84 mobile phones were found in his possession, taken from the refugees.


Dawood Amiri. Photo: Achmad Ibrahim, AP

Kaka’s family learned about the shipwreck from local newspapers. “None of us believed it initially. Now that we … don’t talk about it within the family,” Kaka’s sister-in-law said. “His fiancee, my sister, has been extremely depressed but is now improving a bit. My father has now understood that Kaka is gone but won’t talk to anyone about him at all.”

The consequences for Abdul Aziz’s large family have been severe. With the only wage earner gone, his eldest son had left school and works in a bakery. His house is to be sold to pay off debts.

“We have no plan for life ahead,” said Abdul Hussein, his brother in law, “I cannot look in the eyes of my sister, even now a year after he left. I don’t blame him. My own 16 year old son was shot dead in a sectarian killing shortly after Abdul Aziz was drowned.”

Ishaq, the survivor, is unsure what advice he would give to those planning their own bid to reach Australia. “If your life is safe and you have a choice then don’t do it, it isn’t worth the risk,” Ishaq said. “But if you have no alternative …”

Additional reporting: Naveed Ahmad, Islamabad

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2013/jun/03/night-refugee-boat-sank-victims?CMP=twt_gu#undefined

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Filed under Boat Tragedy, Life after detention, People Smugglers

No advantage, no work, dwindling hope: the asylum seeker’s lot

May 29, 2013

, political editor; guardian.co.uk,

 

The result of Labor immigration policy is sanity-sapping limbo, people fleeing some of the world’s most troubled regions find

The seven nervous Afghan men sitting on the floor along one wall of the tiny, dark flat in Melbourne’s outer west are the forgotten cargo from the boats that couldn’t be stopped.

As Hazaras – an often persecuted ethnic minority seeking refuge in Australia – they say they cannot go back to where they came from but don’t know whether they can stay in Australia either and they don’t know when they will know. There is no date upon which they can pin any
hope.

For an indeterminate period of time, probably many years, they must exist in this and another flat. The walls are cracked, the carpet is lifting and the roof is covered in motley brown stains. There are a couple of old couches dragged in from kerbside cast-offs, but no beds or mattresses.

The men are not allowed to study or work, and live on about $220 a week, 89% of unemployment benefits.

After rent they have barely enough to survive, certainly not enough to send anything much back to the wives and children three have left behind without a breadwinner.

They were each unlucky enough to wash up in Australia in a people smuggler’s fishing boat after 13 August – the date on which the Labor government decreed that the refugee claims of asylum seekers arriving by boat would receive “no advantage” over those who sit for years in refugee camps overseas.

If they had arrived on 12 August they would probably be able to work by now and the processing of their refugee claims would have begun.

Their state of sanity-sapping limbo is not an unintended consequence of government policy. It is the whole point. Removing work rights and delaying the processing of claims for many years was supposed to remove hope and stop the boats.

It has not. Since 13 August 19,760 more people have arrived.

The problems of the several hundred post-13 August arrivals sent to reopened processing centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the remote Pacific island of Nauru are receiving some publicity.

But thousands – possibly as many as 10,000 – have so far been released into the Australian community on no-advantage bridging visas live like this, out of sight, in the outer suburbs of Australian cities.

“We have no work, no study. We just stay here and worry about our families … we are full of distress,” says Jawad, through an interpreter, a man who provides proof of how different things could be.

Reza Andesha arrived just over a year ago as a refugee and has now set up business as a driving instructor – the Kabul Driving School (discounts for female customers to celebrate the fact that they can freely learn to drive here) – while he waits for his professional qualifications to be documented. He has also established an Afghan community association to help men such as these.

“I am a tiler, but I would do any work at all, anything. I don’t want to take money from the government,” Jawad says.

“I left $1,000 with my wife and children. I thought I would be able to work and send them money. Now they have nothing. I don’t know what will happen to them. I don’t know what to tell them. I just have to wait.”

“We are living in stress. Sometimes we cry. Sometimes we sing songs to make ourselves happy,” says Ali, who has also left a wife and three children.

“It’s hard to sleep. He was awake until half past three last night. He was
worrying,” says Jawed, motioning towards another of the men, Mohammed.

The men say they walk around sometimes and visit other Hazaras in the neighbourhood, but they don’t venture far, as recently-arrived Magrit, a young, single man, explains.

“We don’t go out very much. We heard of other Hazara people who were attacked on the train. We don’t want to be near any trouble because it might be bad for our case.”

Asked whether they would have come had they known of the new no-work policy the men nod. One had been waiting for many months in Indonesia just to register for refugee processing with the UN high commission for refugees when he heard about the Australian policy change. He came anyway.

Asked whether they would have come under the Coalition’s proposed policy – which would grant proven refugees work rights but under a temporary protection visa with no prospect of permanent resettlement and no chance of bringing their families to Australia – some nod also.

“I was in danger. I had to escape,” says 30-year old Mohammed. “I had worked for a contractor to the US army. I was a labourer. The Taliban warned me. I didn’t believe them. But then they killed the brother of my friend so I ran away.”

Magit says a temporary protection visa “would solve one problem, but make another one”. He adds: “At least we would be able to work then.”

But Mohammed looks distressed. “If we can’t bring ever our family that will be like doomsday for me,” he says.

In a neighbouring suburb, Syed Ejan Hussein Zaidi, a Shia Hazara who was working as an accountant in Quetta, Pakistan, before he fled the escalating attacks on Hazara by militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is in the same situation.

He says the money he receives is difficult to survive on, but he feels bad every time he withdraws it from the bank because he hasn’t earned it.

“Yeah I would rather, earn money myself, OK, than money given by the government of Australia us. I really feel quite, what shall I say, uneasy when I am paid such money when I draw out from the bank such money because I do not do anything, but I am paid,” he says.

He says the limbo life is taking its toll on him and other asylum seekers on bridging visas.

“They are sitting at home and they are doing nothing and this definitely affects negatively, because once you are sitting here without doing anything. It, I mean it gets down your morale, it gets down your emotions, it gets down OK, your feeling. It turns the people into
tense situations. It turns the people into depression,” he says.

Across Melbourne in yet another near empty flat sits Arman [his name is changed for the protection of his family] who fled Iran when the authorities discovered the underground Christian church of which he was a member.

“I became a Christian … my parents were not happy about it but they accepted … but my beliefs were different from my fiancee so we separated. I had to live as a Christian secretly, do my Bible studies secretly, but then the secret police found out about our group, they questioned some of our members. I decided to run away while I still could. I paid $6,000 to get to Australia.

“We know the government here is having a big argument with each other … We don’t know what is going to happen. We are wasting time, losing time, with nothing to do. We can’t go back and we can’t do anything here, we just sit and wait.”

“I don’t understand why they don’t let us work. If we work then we can stop taking money from the government … I feel useless. Men are meant to work. Men who don’t work get sick.”

Arman has found a bicycle to avoid the cost of buses and trains. He uses it for the few outings that punctuate the long boring weeks: a trip to the library, Bible studies two weekday evenings and church on Sundays.

There’s no money for anything else. “I paid the rent yesterday,” he says. “Now I have $10 left for the next 12 days.” He has been given an old television, but for it to work he needs an aerial. “I think they cost $60.” He laughs at the improbability of saving such a sum.

Cath Scarth is chief executive of AMES, a company contracted by the federal government to house asylum seekers released on bridging visas for up to six weeks, help them rent a house and provide some basic English language training and instruction on life in Australia.

“This is a highly resilient group of people. They are not dependent and they often help each other,” she says.

“There are some wonderful stories, like the Iranian man who was a personal trainer. He gets the younger guys up in the morning and takes them out for a run.”

“But we are concerned that over time without hope they will get demoralised. We fear for their health and wellbeing living in this perpetual state of not knowing … we have to try to make sure they don’t go from being resilient to being depressed and dependent.”

Moving into completely empty flats and with no money, asylum seekers have no choice but to turn to charities, who are also deeply concerned and fast running out of emergency supplies.

UnitingCare in Werribee, in Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s own electorate, ran out of food vouchers in February for the first time in 13 years because of the extra demand from hundreds of asylum seekers in the area.

The St Vincent de Paul chief executive, Dr John Falzon, says the no advantage test is “an incredibly cruel and punitive way of treating people” and is also stretching charities such as his past capacity.

He says: “They are released, they end up in a completely empty flat and they’re told, here’s the number for Vinnies … We help as much as we can but it’s putting an incredible strain on our resources. It’s demeaning for the people and it isn’t stopping the boats or preventing people from being drowned at sea.

“The aliens in our midst is how these people are being portrayed … it’s a damning indictment of where Australia has moved to.”

But as the boats keep coming and the asylum detention centres fill to bursting, budget pressures mean more asylum seekers will be released to a life of limbo in the suburbs, not just the single men who have been released so far, but now also families.
On the windowsill of the Afghan Hazaras’ flat is a large tin moneybox. “We put some coins in there when we can,” Jawed explains. “They’re for the poor people.”

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/27/no-advantage-asylum-seekers-limbo#ixzz2Ug9XzIJX

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Asylum seeker’s deportation on hold after court win

March 20, 2013

Image Source: Google Images

An Afghan asylum seeker has recorded a significant win over the Government in the Federal Court.

In a unanimous decision, the court found the man’s application for refuge had not been considered fairly and as such, his deportation to Kabul is now on hold.

In September last year the man, known to the court as “SZQRB”, was due to be deported to Kabul after his application for asylum was rejected.

The matter was referred to the then minister for immigration, Chris Bowen, who had the power to grant the man a visa if he deemed it to be in the public interest.

Mr Bowen declined to consider the case.

Lawyers for the asylum seeker argued the decision was procedurally unfair and today the Federal Court accepted that argument.

It found Mr Bowen decided to deport the man regardless of whether the assessment of Australia’s treaty obligations was factual or legally correct and even if his view that Australia did not owe the man protection was wrong.

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says the man was not given a fair go and suggested the Federal Government had set up a system to handle the cases of asylum seekers arriving by boat differently to other applicants.

Today, justice triumphed. He’s not going anywhere at the moment. And we hope that they don’t appeal it to the High Court.

Pamela Curr

“It was designed to exclude people rather than to examine their cases fairly and accept them,” she said.

“That’s what happened. This man is one of 120 that we know the Department and the Minister have marked for removal.

“Today, justice triumphed. He’s not going anywhere at the moment. And we hope that they don’t appeal it to the High Court.”

The asylum seeker was briefed by his lawyer about the decision and issued a statement through an interpreter.

“I am proud and I am calm and I’m thankful,” he said.

Ms Curr says the man, a Hazara, would face death if he was sent back to Afghanistan.

“It’s life and death,” she said.

“What we were talking about today was a man being loaded on a plane, sent back to Kabul. He would get off that plane and he would be marked. And he would surely be killed.

“Now, that’s been stopped. And we’ve got to stop it for the other 120.”

She says the asylum seekers facing deportation are victims of a flawed system.

“These 120 were victims, effectively, of a system. A flawed system. And this Government has been dead keen to send them back to Afghanistan in order to send a message. A message to tell people not to catch the boats,” she said.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-20/asylum-seeker-deportation-on-hold-after-court-win/4584966

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Filed under Courts and Legal Challenges, Deportation, Human Rights and Refugee Activists

A Desperate Voyage: How Much Would You Risk To Start A New Life In Australia?

Aubrey Belford
PEOPLE   |   October 8, 2012
First day: Barkat Ali, right, and another asylum seeker use tires to hold down a tarp that is concealing other asylum seekers below deck.

First day: Barkat Ali, right, and another asylum seeker use tires to hold down a tarp that is concealing other asylum seekers below deck. |
Barat Ali Batoor

“I could see the death in front of me” — listen to the hair-raising reality of seeking asylum in Australia. Two ship-wrecked asylum seekers cheat death, make a daring escape, and now face the wrenching choices of a life in limbo.

It was 5am when I was woken by a phone call.

“Hi Aubrey, it’s Barat Ali Batoor. I’ve escaped,” he said, his voice buzzing with adrenaline. “I’m on the way to Jakarta. Where are you?”

Just the previous day, I had been talking to Batoor on the phone and he had been in despair. Despair because Batoor had made a break for Australia in a shoddy wooden boat with more than 90 other Hazara asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The boat had nearly sunk in rough seas, and had been forced to run ashore in a remote corner of western Java. After two days stranded in the jungle, they had been captured.

When Batoor had first called, he had been on his way to immigration detention west of Jakarta, where he faced the possibility of deportation to Afghanistan, and, he said, the risk of death at the hands of the Taliban.

But before dawn the next morning, Batoor had broken his way out, and now he was hurtling towards Jakarta in a taxi.

I ran out of my house to meet Batoor, 29, and another Hazara asylum seeker, Barkat Ali, 31, on a roadside as the early daylight bled out over the city. In spite of their bleary eyes, crumpled clothes and scratched arms, the men were wired, chatting excitedly like kids just off a fairground ride. Ali had nothing but what he was wearing; Batoor still had a backpack. Both men wore sandals they had stolen from the front doors of homes during their escape.

“We saw death right in front of us,” Batoor recalled, after some tea, rest and a shower. “Now I can feel how the death is, how you see the death. When you see it really close to you.”

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But Batoor and Ali were alive. They were also free, sort of, among the malls, traffic and anonymous millions of Jakarta. But in the strange limbo that is the life of asylum seekers waiting in Indonesia, they faced a series of difficult choices. Should they take another boat, or risk the long wait to be processed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees? Was returning home an option? How long could their money last?

First things first: Batoor and Ali had no shoes and few clothes left, so their first act of freedom was to change some creased US dollars and go shopping.

I had first met Batoor, via a Pakistani contact, a couple of weeks earlier, as he waited for the smugglers’ rickety wooden boat to Australia. Back in Afghanistan, Batoor had been a photojournalist, a risky enough vocation for anyone. The fact that Batoor was a Hazara, the Shia Muslim minority with distinctive East Asian features and a history of animosity with the Sunni extremist Taliban, just made things worse. Afghanistan had begun to seem more insecure by the day, but Batoor said the trigger for him to leave was a photo essay he had published on Afghan child prostitutes known as ‘dancing boys‘. After it appeared, he had started to receive threatening phone calls, including, he claims, from people aligned with the government. When he fled in July, he took his camera with him.

Ali had a similar story.

Back in Afghanistan, Ali had been relatively successful and was also, he claims, a marked man. Ali worked as a procurement officer for the UN in Kabul, a reasonably well paying job. But working for the UN upped the risk factors for him. Eventually, word filtered through to Ali’s family in Ghazni province that the Taliban had him on a hit list.

Ali had sent his wife, one-year-old daughter, mother and younger sister to wait in the Pakistani city of Quetta, itself a dangerous town plagued by Islamist death squads who have killed hundreds of Hazarasin recent years.  Then in August, Ali dipped into nearly four years’ worth of savings and paid USD11,000 to people-smugglers to get him to Bangkok, via Dubai, and then by road and ferry through Malaysia to Indonesia. Another $6,000 would get him on a boat for Christmas Island. Batoor paid $8,000 for the first leg, and $5,700 for the second.

In Puncak, a traffic-clogged strip of hill towns outside Jakarta favoured by asylum seekers as a stopover, both men waited separately for the call telling them it was time to go. They knew each other from a few earlier encounters in Kabul, but neither man had seen the other in Indonesia until they crossed paths in a market.

Batoor and Ali met each other again when they separately boarded a boat in the early hours of Friday, September 21, and slipped under cover of darkness out of a port somewhere in Java. For a day, their vessel moved smoothly through the strait that separates Java and Sumatra, and past the shattered cone of the famed Mount Krakatoa. But by nighttime, the weather had turned foul. Waves tossed the boat around as those below deck prayed, cried and vomited. Water began pouring in faster than the pumps could take it out.

“Finally the captain told us: ‘The boat is not in a good condition to take you further. The water is also very bad. So if you go ahead, I will take you, but that is completely, 100 per cent death and you will be responsible for your lives.'” Batoor recalls.

The next morning, the asylum seekers scrambled off the boat and over submerged rocks into the thick forests of Ujung Kulon, a remote peninsula at the extreme western end of Java. Batoor slipped off one rock and into the sea, drenching and destroying his camera. Discarding dozens of lifejackets on the beach, they moved into the jungle, splitting up into groups as they quarreled over what to do next.

“All were confused and scared. Worried about how to get out of the jungle and find a way. Just to get out of this hell and not be caught by police,” Batoor says.

Batoor and Ali became part of a group that decided to set out for a village. On the map, it didn’t look far, but it soon became clear they would never make it. There was no food, and the only water they came across was from a stagnant creek. After a night on the beach, they found a jetty and some coconuts, which they cracked open and drank from thirstily. When a boat from a resort on a tourist island came by, Ali and Batoor were part of a group that hailed it. They were quickly handed over to Indonesian water police.

INDONESIA’S IMMIGRATION-DETENTION centres are nothing like the modern complexes Australia has built at home and in the Pacific. They are half-heartedly run, shambolic affairs. Escapes are so common that Ali had already been briefed by another asylum seeker on where to go after breaking out of the detention centre in Serang, about 75 kilometres west of Jakarta.

Not that their escape was easy. The authorities paid the men plenty of attention, at least as a source of cash. On the ferry back to Java, both men, along with other asylum seekers, had money taken from them, and Batoor’s camera was confiscated. They only got their belongings back after the passengers vocally protested. When they arrived in their room at Serang, they say an immigration officer furtively strip-searched them, taking about USD300, two mobile phones, and their shoes.

In the detention centre, there were 52 asylum seekers guarded by a contingent of immigration officers and armed police. Inside their room, Batoor, Ali and six other Hazaras watched the guards through a window facing an inner courtyard, observing their movements. At about 4am, as the guards sat around a fire, they removed two glass slats from an outside-facing window and slipped through, taking their pillows and sheets with them. Batoor and Ali went first, and the others in the room followed. They climbed a tree near an outer wall, which was topped with shards of broken glass. The men put their pillows over the glass, and climbed over the wall with the sheets wrapped around their hands and forearms.

Later on, as their taxi approached Jakarta, the driver asked them where they had come from. “Mongolia,” Ali replied.

NOW SHOPPING FOR SHOES, Batoor and Ali seemed to have plenty of choices. But as we moved from one of Jakarta’s downmarket malls to another, none of the shoes seemed to fit.

When I met Ali early this morning, he had been set against getting on another boat. “It was my first time and my last,” he’d said. But as the hours pass, he becomes less certain. Batoor is similarly ambivalent.

“We can’t live in Afghanistan or Pakistan. If I got back to Afghanistan or Pakistan, I will be killed,”Ali said.

Both men already have spent their childhoods as refugees in Pakistan, returning to Afghanistan only after the Taliban were overthrown by the American-led invasion in 2001. But Pakistan is no longer a safe haven. Quetta, where most Hazaras in Pakistan live, is now a killing field, and people have been fleeing. Many Hazaras have moved into other parts of Pakistan, but they fear Islamist militants will soon also start targeting them there. Indonesia is safe, but both men say they have no way of earning money while they wait, possibly for many years, while the UNHCR processes their claims and a country of resettlement is found. Australia resettles a tiny fraction of the refugees waiting in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Ali fears for his family stranded in Quetta.

Neither man wants to brave another boat trip to Australia. But, right now, it’s only the fear of drowning that’s keeping them from going again. Money is not a problem. Batoor said the cash for his trip to Australia was deposited with a third person, who will only pay the people smugglers once Batoor is safely delivered to his destination. His next trip, in other words, is free. Neither man said he was deterred by the prospect of offshore processing in Nauru.

After finally finding some shoes that fit, the men head to the home of a friend of Batoor’s, an Indonesian photographer. She serves up a round of drinks and the men rest before finally heading back up to join the hundreds of other Hazaras waiting in the hills outside Jakarta.

Before he leaves, Batoor’s friend hands him an envelope that arrived while he was in the jungle. Inside are the papers registering him as an asylum seeker with the UNHCR, which had been obtained three weeks ago but were mistakenly sent to a friend in Australia.

If Batoor ends up choosing to take his chances by waiting here in Indonesia, he will need them.
This post was originally published in: http://www.theglobalmail.org/

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Asylum seeker boat capsizes north of Christmas Island

June 21, 2012

Map of approximate location of a capsized boat

Photo: The boat capsized about 120 nautical miles north of Christmas Island. (Google Maps)

A BOAT carrying up to 200 asylum seekers has capsized north of Christmas Island this afternoon.

Australian searchers have seen survivors in the water with merchant ships  racing to the scene of the disaster 120 nautical miles north of Christmas  Island.

The asylum seekers on the boat, which remains largely intact, are understood  to be mainly from Sri Lanka, Sky News reported.

Today’s tragedy came after the arrival of another vessel, this one with 117  people, bringing this month’s arrivals to 18, and the number of people arriving  to 11-hundred-and-eight

The boat has overturned in Indonesian waters and the Australian Government  has offered assistance.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Search and Rescue Authority  confirmed survivors had been spotted.

“There are survivors, we cannot confirm numbers at this stage,” she said.

Two Australian patrol boats are heading to the scene as well as a P3  aircraft.

Customs also confirmed the vessel was in the Indonesian search and rescue  Region.
Indonesia’s BASARNAS was the lead authority for coordinating  search and rescue efforts, while ASMA was organising the Australian  end.
“Customs and Border Protection and Defence assets are being  deployed,” Customs said in a statement.
This included a Defence aircraft  equipped with life rafts, a Customs maritime surveillance aircraft, and two  Armidale class patrol boats, HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong.
A number  of civilian vessels were also responding.
The stricken vessel was spotted  about 3pm this afternoon by a Customs surveillance plane.

Today’s tragedy brings back painful memories of the Christmas Island tragedy  of December 2010 after more than 50 asylum seekers died when a boat known as  SIEV 221 crashed into rocks.
Most of the passengers were Iranian or Iraqi  nationals and the youngest to die was three months old.
The disaster was  the largest loss of life in Australian waters in peacetime in 115  years.
As many as 200 people drowned last December when an overloaded  boat sank off the coast of East Java on its way to Australia.
Just 49  people survived the tragedy, which occurred in rough monsoonal seas on December  17.
Timeline of boat disasters

February 2012

At least eight drown after a boat capsizes near Malaysia

December 2011

Up to 200 die when boat heading from Indonesia to Australia sinks

November  2011

Up to 20 killed when boat capsizes off Java, Indonesia

December 2010

Christmas Island boat crash claims 50 lives, including babies and  children

November 2010

Boat with 97 people on board goes missing

May 2010

5 Sri Lankans drown off the Cocos Islands

October 2009

Asylum boat with 105 Hazaras on board believed to have vanished between  Indonesia and Australia

April 2009

5 Afghan asylum seekers die when their boat explodes

More to come.

Read more: http://www.news.com.au/national/an-asylum-seeker-boat-has-capsized-north-of-christmas-island/story-e6frfkvr-1226404645552#ixzz1yPyMqthH

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