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Nauru: Human Rights Commission will accept leaked report as evidence

May 30, 2014

Gillian Triggs
Gillian Triggs says evidence in the report supports many of the AHRC’s observations. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

A report documenting the desperate state of medical provision inside Australia’s detention centres on Nauru will be considered as evidence in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) inquiry into children in detention as agencies expressed serious concern about the report’s findings.

The president of the AHRC, Gillian Triggs, said the report, written by five independent medical experts and obtained by Guardian Australia, articulated issues of “profound concern” to the inquiry being conducted by a statutory, independent body.

The AHRC is not permitted to visit Australia’s offshore detention centres as it does not have extraterritorial jurisdiction, but Triggs said the conditions for child asylum seekers offshore and the Australian government’s decision to send children offshore were part of the inquiry’s remit.

The report notes that children are inadequately health screened and up to 50% of those on Nauru could carry latent TB. It also raises serious concerns that there is no clear child protection framework on Nauru and that most pregnant women are suffering from depression.

Triggs said the evidence in the report supported many of the inquiry’s observations of children in mainland detention and on Christmas Island, adding: “If it is true that they are being given very cursory health checks then that again underpins the point that they are being held in a way that cannot be justified on any rational or practical basis.”

Triggs said that a letter of concern documenting widespread medical failings in detention, written last November and signed by 15 doctors operating on Christmas Island, would also be used as evidence in the inquiry.

The chief executive of Unicef Australia, Norman Gillespie, said that the report confirmed their “fears for children and pregnant mothers in Australian immigration detention”.

“That children are being exposed to chronic diseases, delayed treatment and deteriorating health while under the protection of Australia is of great concern,” Unicef Australia’s advocacy manager, Amy Lamoin, said.

“The government must uphold its responsibilities and ensure that children in its care have access to adequate standards of health care and protection. We request the minister respond in full to this report and explain how he will ensure the safety and health of the children under his care.’

Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have been refused entry to the Nauru detention centre in recent months, and the centre’s operations are cloaked in secrecy.

The coordinator of Amnesty Australia’s refugee campaign, Graeme McGregor, said one of the organisation’s principal concerns with the report was that it would not have been made public if it had not been leaked.

“That is extremely concerning and it really shows the secrecy surrounding this policy of offshore detention and what it may, in fact, be hiding. Amnesty were denied access to visit Nauru earlier this year and this is exactly the kind of thing we were afraid of – that the denial of access was being used to hide this kind of abuse.”

McGregor continued: “In particular we’re concerned about the lack of processes and protections for children who have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, and really we feel that failures of this policy mean that if a child was being sexually or physically abused that nothing effective can be done about it, and also that the public in general would never find out about it.”

On Friday the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the report, which was filed about two months ago, was “of some time ago”. Morrison told reporters that the commander of operation sovereign borders, Lt-General Angus Campbell – who is not medically qualified –had given him a “very positive report” of the centre’s conditions subsequently.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the leaked report revealed a “mental health crisis in the Nauru detention camp”.

“This damning report reveals the truth of Nauru and the horrific conditions that children are being exposed to on a daily basis,” she said. 

“There is no paediatric life support on the island and conditions in the Nauru hospital are clearly unacceptable.”

Hanson-Young also provided photographs of conditions inside the maternity ward, which she said “show the true condition” in Nauru’s only hospital.

Sophie Peer, of the child asylum seeker advocacy group ChilOut, said the report revealed that the lives of child asylum seekers were being put at risk on Nauru.

“There is no excuse for endangering the life, health and safety of a child,” Peer said.

“We have never believed the line that offshore detention is about saving lives. Now we have even more detailed evidence that Australia is in fact putting lives at risk.

“Without question it is time to put aside political point-scoring and get people out of this dangerous detention facility. If this is not done, the result could be fatal.”

ChilOut said it believes there are more than 40 unaccompanied children detained on Nauru, and expressed particular concern, as does the report, about their safety and welfare.

Ian Wishart, the chief executive of Plan international, a global child rights NGO, said: “These children are being denied their most basic rights to healthcare and protection on our government’s watch. Australia has a legal and moral obligation to do better.

“Children are the innocents in all this. The majority do not make the decision to come to Australia, and nor are they able to stand up for the rights every single parent in Australia would expect for their own children.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/30/nauru-leaked-report-exposes-desperate-state-of-health-care-in-detention-centres

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Nauru detention: serious health risks to children revealed in confidential report

May 30, 2014

Guardian Australia exclusive:

• Barely any screening for communicable diseases in children; none for under-11s

• Children at ‘significant risk’ of sexual abuse

• Most pregnant detainees are depressed

Nauru children
Children play at the detention centre on Nauru.

The desperate state of healthcare offered to asylum-seeker families, children, babies and pregnant women inside the Nauru detention centre can be revealed for the first time in a comprehensive report produced by five independent clinical experts, obtained exclusively by Guardian Australia.

Observations in the report include:

  • Children in the Nauru detention centre are not adequately screened for disease, resulting in the likelihood that many are carrying undiagnosed blood-borne diseases and up to 50% are carrying latent tuberculosis.
  • There are no paediatricians employed in the centre and no paediatric life support available on Nauru.
  • There is no clear child protection framework for children inside the centre and it is unclear what child protection checks are undertaken for Nauruan staff. This, according to the report, “places them [asylum seeker children] at significant risk of sexual abuse”.
  • Most pregnant women are suffering from depression.
  • Immunisation courses are not properly completed, increasing the risk of transferable diseases.
  • In a 14-month period between 2012 and 2013 there were 102 cases of self-harm, including 28 hanging attempts by 18 detainees; 6.3% of the asylum seekers are on psychotropic medication to treat mental illness.
  • There were 53 medical transfers to Australia in 2012-13 at a cost of $85,000 a transfer, with the report also noting that these can take up to 36 hours to complete.
  • Living conditions are “crowded, hot and humid” with children having “limited meaningful play”. Children play with stones.
  • There is an apparent significant risk of groundwater
  • contamination as a result of poor waste management at the detention centre.
  • There are nine 17-year-old unaccompanied minors on Nauru

The 56-page document, completed by the “physical and mental health subcommittee of the joint advisory committee for Nauru regional processing arrangements”, was not meant for public consumption and was filed for review to the Nauruan and Australian governments, who chair the committee.

It outlines substantial problems created by the Coalition government’s rapid offshore transfer policy for asylum seekers and was written after a site visit to Nauru in February.

The report raises many issues similar to those expressed in a letter of concern signed by 15 doctors working in detention centres on Christmas Island and reported by Guardian Australia in December. The report notes asylum seekers on Nauru often queue for an hour a day to receive medical attention and records criticisms of the prescription process and IT systems that are similar to those described in the 92-page Christmas Island letter.

The revelations follow serious allegations of assault against child asylum seekers in detention on Nauru in March, which raised further questions about the safety of children in detention.

It is understood that many of the 18 recommendations noted by the independent experts are being considered by both the Nauruan and Australian governments but the health subcommittee does not have the power to enforce any of its findings.

A spokeswoman for the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, did not respond to detailed questions but said: “The majority of recommendations in the report were supported by the department and either already acted upon or subject to planned service improvements as identified by the department’s chief medical officer.”

She did not say which of the recommendations had been acted upon.

Guardian Australia understands that many of the issues articulated in the report are still current.

Nauru children
The report raises concerns similar to those expressed by doctors in detention centres on Christmas Island

‘Critical issues’ with child health screening and medical facilities

Children under 15 do not receive blood testing, meaning there is “extremely limited screening for communicable/infectious diseases”, according to the report. Children are not examined for mental health issues and IHMS, the private medical provider running services in detention, does not employ a paediatrician.

The report notes a “lack of resuscitation support for infants and children” in the centre and states that there is just one paediatrician employed by the island’s only hospital who speaks “minimal English”.

There are now 190 children detained on Nauru.

The subcommittee was also unable to verify if children detained on Nauru had been health screened at all before being transferred from Christmas Island under the government’s “rapid transfer” policy, which mandates that asylum seekers are moved offshore within 48 hours.

“The lack of child health screening in detention healthcare (overall and prior to transfer) means the physical and mental health conditions are likely to emerge in children after transfer and communicable diseases and developmental issues will remain unaddressed,” the report says.

It adds that pathology results for any child who is screened on Christmas Island are unlikely to be available owing to the rapid transfer. Medical groups have strongly criticised this policy.

The report notes there are no facilities for blood culture tests in the centre. “The evacuation time [from Nauru to Australia] is reported to be 24-36 hours, during which time an acutely unwell neonate [newly born baby] would deteriorate and could die,” the report states.

The report notes it is likely that up to 50% of children have latent tuberculosis, with “their risk of developing active tuberculosis increased by young age, recent migration and social stressors, all of which are relevant in this setting”. The report adds that multiple children will have undiagnosed blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis B.

It states that the care available for children and newborns is “not in keeping with an Australian community standard of care” and there is no memorandum of understanding in place with the hospital on Nauru despite the fact it provides a backup to the detention centre in complex cases.

“To put this in perspective, a hospital with around 20-30 staff on a given day that serves a local population of 10,000 people is providing backup to a health centre with around 50 staff on a given day, that provides healthcare to 2,300 people,” the report says. “It is unclear how use of the RoN [Republic of Nauru] hospital by people from the RPC [regional processing centre] affects local access to care, including to resources such as neonatal care, dental care and optometry services.”

Guardian Australia submitted detailed questions to IHMS, the private medical service provider. It declined to comment.

Child protection ‘a major concern’

There is no clear child protection framework in the detention centre. While service provider have “measures” to perform police checks or working-with-children checks on Australian staff, there are inconsistent requirements across agencies. It is also unclear what checks local staff, who constitute 53% of the workforce, have to undergo.

“Detention, and the grouping of large numbers of children and adults in crowded living conditions, without normal social structures or activities, risks exposing children to physical and mental violence and places them at significant risk of sexual abuse,” the report notes, adding that unaccompanied minors are at particular risk.

The report says that not a single stakeholder in the centre has a clear child protection policy in place and adds that unaccompanied minors, whose legal guardian duties are enacted by a Save the Children manager, have no clear framework to report abuse:

“… it was unclear how decision-making or acting in ‘best interests’ might occur [for unaccompanied minors], what legal training had been undertaken, which legal framework would be utilised, whether the organisation had protocols for management and decision making in sentinel events (eg sexual assault) and whether there was a plan for long-term review and support of children’s rights.”

The report says service providers reported they would refer child protection issues to the Nauru police, but adds: “Nauru does not have a child protection framework.”

Guardian Australia contacted all service providers in the detention centre asking them to detail their policies on child protection. A spokesman for Transfield Services, which manages the detention centres on Nauru, said all Australian staff were assessed by the Australian federal police before working in the centre. The spokesman said all Nauruan staff “undergo a Nauru police check and sign a statutory declaration. They are also trained in the DIBP’s [Department for Immigration and Border Protection] protocols for handling children.” The spokesman said other checks were carried out but declined to go into detail as to what they were.

A spokesman for Save the Children, which provides childcare in the centre, said child protection was the organisation’s “No 1 priority” on Nauru.

“A child safeguarding protocol and code of conduct prepared by Save the Children is in place on Nauru and is mandatory for all service providers. It outlines child-safe recruitment techniques, including working with children checks and/or police checks for positions involving contact with children, and detailed incident reporting and investigation procedures.”

The spokesman said all Save the Children staff – Australian and Nauruan – were required to undergo police or working-with-children checks and sign a code of conduct.

With regards to the subcommittee’s observations on Save the Children’s guardianship role for unaccompanied minors, a spokesman said: “The manager and all staff responsible for the supervision of unaccompanied minors are trained on the decision-making processes and reporting procedures. All incidents are reported in accordance with the regional processing centre guidelines and the protocol.”

Seven cases of self-harm a month and high rates of depression among pregnant women

The report describes a “critical issue” of self-harm with an average of seven episodes each month between September 2012 and November 2013.

In that period there were 28 attempted hangings and five attempts at throat slitting. Twelve asylum seekers made more than one attempt at self-harm; 10 of those people had escalating histories.

Sixty adults were taking psychotropic medications at the time of the visit, constituting 6.3% of the detention centre’s population.

Thirty-three of the 53 medical transfers off Nauru in 2012-13 were related to mental health issues.

There were 15 pregnant women on Nauru at the time of the visit, with five who had been transferred to Australia for care. Mental health staff reported that most pregnant women had “consistently high” scores of depression on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale. “Most women scored around 24, where the cut point for detecting significant depression is 10,” the report says.

The report also notes there is no facility for advanced paediatric life support at the Nauru hospital and only one incubator. Women experiencing pregnancy complications are transferred to Australia to give birth.

The spokeswoman for Morrison was asked whether the government would abandon its rapid-transfer policy. She said: “There have been no recent rapid transfers to offshore processing centres. There has not been a successful people smuggling venture to Australia in almost six months.

“Transfers are occurring in a planned schedule that take into account any matters that have to be addressed.

“There has been no change to government policy since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders and the government is not considering any changes to these policies.”

The report contains many more details about the state of healthcare provisions inside the detention centre. Guardian Australia has published it in full here. The report was not given to Guardian Australia by any members of the subcommittee and none wished to comment.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/30/nauru-detention-serious-health-risks-to-children-revealed-in-confidential-report

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First group of asylum seekers granted refugee status on Nauru

May 22, 2014

The first asylum seekers to be granted refugee visas on Nauru have been released into the community.

Thirteen asylum seekers have been given refugee protection, including an Iranian family and four single men.

They have now been released from Australian immigration detention on the island and given five-year visas.

They will be given the option of settling in Cambodia if a resettlement deal between Australia and that country is signed as expected.

Seven people received negative assessments, including four people in two families and three single adult men. They remain, for now, in detention.

The Iranian family was met by Save the Children staff at the Anibare Lodge family accomodation, while the single men are being housed at a separate site.

Nauru’s government says refugees who resettle in the community are free to move around the island and seek employment.

The first refugee determinations come nearly two years after the former Labor government began sending asylum seekers who arrived by boat to the tiny Pacific island nation.

There are now more than 1,100 asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru.

The Nauruan government says the refugees will be supported by a buddy system to help them integrate into island life.

It says they are settling into temporary accommodation and will soon move to more permanent and more suitably located housing.

The Nauruan government is expecting to deliver another 21 refugee determinations today.

Struggling Nauru can’t take in extra people: MP

Nauru opposition MP Mathew Batsua says it does not make sense for the struggling nation to be taking the refugees but the country would do its best to accommodate them.

“We’re a small country, we have many issues ourselves. We’re struggling with infrastructure issues, health issues, education issues, so to take on extra people doesn’t make sense for us. We think we’re too small and we haven’t changed our position at all,” he said.

“I think culturally, because we are obviously worlds apart in terms of what we use and the ways of life in the Pacific versus where they came from, religion-wise, I think Nauruans in general are very accommodating and hospitable people. We are willing to give people a chance if they are able to settle in.

He says the Nauruan government needs to be more forthcoming with information about how the resettlement will work.

“The government are behaving in ways that are detrimental to Nauru, ways that are detrimental to the representation of Nauru. They are being very secretive which is totally contrary to what we believe our role should be.

“We need to be open to show the international community we can do this well and we can do it in an open manner.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-22/first-refugees-on-nauru-released-and-granted-visas/5469244

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Asylum seekers: Amnesty accuses Nauru of hiding conditions after refusing detention centre access

April 29, 2014

Tents at the regional processing centre on Nauru

Amnesty International says the Nauru government has refused its request to inspect the centre.

Amnesty International has accused the Nauruan government of trying to avoid public scrutiny of the treatment of asylum seekers on the Pacific Island.

Amnesty says the Nauruan government has declined a request to tour the Australian-run immigration detention centre, citing “the current circumstances” and it being “an incredibly busy time”.

Amnesty’s refugee spokesman Graham McGregor says the human rights group wanted to view conditions at the Nauru centre, which currently houses 1,177 asylum seekers including women and children.

“It is extremely unusual for us to be denied access to a detention centre and in fact we visited the Manus Island detention centre, as you might recall, back in November last year,” he said.

“So we, as part of that work, similarly put in a request to visit the Nauru detention centre and we received a refusal.”

Amnesty International’s Manus Island report, which was published in December, described conditions in the PNG centre as cruel, inhuman, degrading and violating prohibitions against torture.

“We have good reason to believe there may be similar human right abuses taking place in Nauru,” Mr McGregor said.

“Certainly what has leaked out about the Nauru detention centre has been extremely concerning, particularlythe recent allegations of water shortages and allegations that children at the facility are being physically abused.”

Amnesty says it’s is being ‘cold shouldered’

Amnesty International says the request to visit the detention centre was put to the Nauru justice minister David Adeang in early March.

He says the minister responded that the Nauru processing centre “was incredibly busy and that they felt that a visit by Amnesty International at this time may appear premature”.

A proposal for alternative dates was ignored, according to Mr McGregor, and “enough time has passed that we would feel we are being cold shouldered.”

He has accused Nauru of trying to hide conditions for the asylum seekers.

“[The refusal] did follow some other steps that have been taken recently by the Nauruan government to try and prevent public scrutiny of conditions inside the detention centre,” he said.

“For example, back in February of this year, the Nauruan government increased the visas for journalists to visit the country from $200 to $8,000, which was a pretty clear sign they simply didn’t want people coming and reporting on what was going on there.

“We did have a little hint there that the Nauru government was not comfortable with that sort of scrutiny, but again we were still surprised by their response.”

Mr McGregor says he does not accept that it is too busy at the centre for an Amnesty International inspection.

“I would imagine conditions at these detention centres are always pretty busy,” he said.

“They are very crowded, they are handling a very difficult system, a very difficult population of people who have a lot of mental health problems, a lot of existing trauma, a lot of health conditions.

“On Nauru, of course, you have children and pregnant women there as well. It is always going to be a busy time.”

UN human rights inspectors’ invite withdrawn

Amnesty’s rejection comes after the Nauruan government withdrew an invitation for a team of UN human rights observers.

Human rights inspectors from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had wanted to investigate the conditions of the asylum seekers sent by Australia, but had to cancel at the last minute.

The Nauru government questioned whether the UN team was trying to use the Pacific island nation as a publicity stunt.

A government spokesman told the ABC earlier this month that, “given the way they have gone about this, it is reasonable to question whether this is merely another publicity stunt by a group with a political agenda”.

The ABC has been told the first refugee determinations at Nauru’s offshore immigration processing centre are now a couple of weeks away.

The asylum seekers are being told that people found to be refugees will be settled in Nauru on a visa for a period up to five years.

They are being warned not to break any laws or take part in protests while awaiting a decision.

While the first refugee determinations are due to be handed down soon, the detainees are being urged to be patient.

Amnesty International says it will keep asking Nauru for access to the immigration processing centre.

The ABC has sought comment from the Nauruan government.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said: “We are not aware of any such decisions (on rejection of access), we have not been consulted on any such decisions, and this is ultimately a matter for Nauru.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-29/nauru-hiding-asylum-seeker-conditions-amnesty-says/5418924

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Nauru refugees to be given five-year work visas

April 27, 2014

nauru detention centre
The detention centre in Nauru is said to have had a limited water supply for about a week, with only drinking water available. Photograph: AAP

Asylum seekers detained on Nauru who are found to be refugees will be given a five-year working visa for Nauru, a leaked document obtained by Guardian Australia says. The first decisions are due to be handed down in a few weeks’ time.

Guardian Australia also understands that a week-long water shortage at the Australian immigration detention centre on the island has resulted in blocked toilets and no showers for the hundreds of children, families and pregnant women detained there.

Flooding from rainfall has also prevented some contractors entering the family compound in the past few days.

The first group of asylum seekers to be given the chance of settling in Nauru will be informed of their status “in the coming weeks”, says the document, which bears the Nauruan government’s coat of arms.

Screenshot of the refugee resettlement document bearing the Nauru government coat of arms
Screenshot of the refugee resettlement document bearing the Nauru government coat of arms. Photograph: Guardian

A batch of determinations, affecting at least 60 people each time, will then be made on a monthly basis. This detail was announced by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, earlier in April.

The document states that asylum seekers who are deemed to be refugees will be “settled in Nauru for a period of up to five years”. It also informs asylum seekers that they can “still decide to return home at any time”.

However, refugees will also be warned that if they break any Nauruan law while awaiting their determination they will be considered “not of good character” and potentially denied settlement. Significantly this includes “any protest activity”.

“Even if you are found to be a refugee you may not be settled in the Nauru community if you are not of good character,” the document warns.

If they are found to be a refugee, a detainee will be assigned a “settlement caseworker” to help them find accommodation, and with health, education and cultural orientation services, the document says. The Nauruan government is promising to help refugees start small businesses.

Several locations are being prepared in Nauru for the resettlement of refugees, Guardian Australia understands.

Asylum seekers who are found to not be refugees will be able to appeal the decision, although no legal representation will be provided.

A spokesman for Morrison’s office said water supply had been affected by a water pump going out of service. “The issue has now been resolved and water supply delivery to Nauru facilities are back in place. At no stage did the centre run out of water.”

A Nauru source said water shortages had plagued the detention centre for a week. “The water has completely cut out,” the source said. While asylum seekers have had access to drinking water, they have been unable to shower, or wash clothes.

Flooding in places was said to be “at knee height”, preventing some staff from entering the facility.

Earlier in April a dengue fever outbreak among staff and asylum seekers resulted in more criticism that the detention centre was not a safe place to hold detainees.

Since then Guardian Australia has revealed serious allegations that security staff have assaulted asylum-seeker children in the camp, and that an unexploded second world war bomb had been found in the camp housing families.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/27/nauru-refugees-to-be-given-five-year-work-visas

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Asylum seeker boat turn-back questions going unanswered by Government, says UNHCR

April 23, 2014

Image Source: Google Images

The United Nations refugee agency has asked Australia to prove it is not breaching the Refugee Convention with its policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.

Speaking in Jakarta, the UNHCR’s regional representative says the Australian Government has not responded to the UN’s concerns about the policies.

The request for information was made in January.

UNHCR regional representative James Lynch says people from seven boats that have been returned to Indonesia recently told the UN agency they made it to Australian land or at least its territorial waters.

He says if that is true, Australia’s responsibility is to allow them to be processed as asylum seekers.

Mr Lynch says it is significant that thousands of asylum seekers arrived in Australia until late last year but it is not a crisis by world standards.

I think when you sit and listen to what countries in the region like Iraq are dealing with, or Jordan or Lebanon, it’s hard to see it [Australia's situation] as a crisis.

UNHCR representative James Lynch

“We have in Syria 6 million either internally displaced or refugees and they have found themselves in the neighbouring countries,” Mr Lynch said.

“A country like Iraq, which has its own internal problems, has been able to accept 250,000 Syrian refugees.

“I think when you sit and listen to what countries in the region like Iraq are dealing with, or Jordan or Lebanon, it’s hard to see it [Australia's situation] as a crisis.”

Mr Lynch has been attending a two-day meeting about protecting asylum seekers at sea. It attracted delegates from 13 countries, including Australia, and was co-hosted by Indonesia and the United Nations refugee agency.

He says the UNHCR understands Australia wants to stop people-smuggling networks and prevent deaths at sea but it needs to comply with its international obligations.

“There are obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol, which say: if you intercept in your territorial waters, you should allow those in need of protection to have access to the asylum system,” he said.

Questions over boats turned back

Mr Lynch says the UNHCR has been told seven boats have been turned back.

“People on the boats have said to us that they either landed or were in Australian territorial waters,” he said.

“We have written to the Australian Government, expressing our concern, and would like to hear their side of the story.

“We don’t have evidence on the other side; we only have the accounts that we’ve heard from people who were on the boat that say that they were in Australian territorial waters.”

We’re talking about a secondary movement of [asylum seekers] who are coming from halfway around the world. We’re not talking about people just walking straight across one border.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says he disagrees with the UNHCR’s criticism of the Federal Government’s policy.

“They’ve always opposed our turn-back policy,” Mr Morrison told Sky News.

“We’re talking about a secondary movement of [those] who are coming from halfway around the world.

“We’re not talking about people just walking straight across one border.

“The issue we’ve had with the UNHCR as a Coalition is a lack of action on secondary movement and people taking advantage of the convention.”

But Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles says the UN agency is right to criticise the Government’s turn-back policy.

Mr Marles told Sky News that the Government needs to provide more information.

“We don’t know as an Australian public what is going on on the high seas,” he said.

“It comes back to this question that this is a secretive Government who is not telling the Australian people what their policies are and so we can’t be sure if the Australian Government is engaged in the unauthorised movements of peoples across borders.”

The UNHCR says Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office has not responded to questions about whether a boat reached Australian territory in January, and if so, when he was made aware of it.

I would think that if you have lived up to your obligations and stand prepared to honour those obligations, you would want to do an investigation to show that you are not in violation.

UNHCR representative James Lynch

“I would think that if you have lived up to your obligations and stand prepared to honour those obligations, you would want to do an investigation to show that you are not in violation,” Mr Lynch said.

“They would want to show that they have not in any way violated their obligations under the convention.”

The official summary of discussions as released by the co-chairs of the meeting recommends that countries “ensure the full promotion and protection of the rights of rescued or intercepted persons at sea and upon disembarkation in accordance with relevant international obligations”.

Indonesia’s director-general of multilateral affairs, Hasan Kleib, says Australia’s policies were not discussed in the workshop as it was focused on protecting so-called “irregular migrants” at sea.

A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison says the Federal Government will continue to use its current border protection policies because they are clearly working.

She says there have been no successful people-smuggling ventures to Australia in four months and the Government’s strong stand is benefiting the region.

Mr Lynch strongly commended Indonesia for holding an international meeting focussed on protecting asylum seekers.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-23/un-on-asylum-seekers/5405688

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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

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Agony of children treated worse than animals

December 19, 2013

Genuine refugees suffer on Nauru as the government works to break their spirits.

Source: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young's official facebook page.

Source: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s official facebook page.

There are no signs to guide you to Australia’s detention centre on Nauru. You instead have to follow the signs that lead to the island’s ”rubbish dump” and eventually they take you straight to the detention centre’s entrance. That alone explains a lot about how Australia is dealing with these refugees who, tragically, include women and children.

When you enter the secure compound, the first thing you notice is the stifling heat that hangs heavy over the camp. The tents have no air-conditioning, fans are in brutally short supply, the humidity is unbelievable and shade is sparse. The second thing you notice is the desperation in the eyes of the people who are being held there.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that it is inhumane for adults to be held in the Nauru camp’s conditions, but the fact that children are being held there is truly unacceptable. There is no playground in the compound, there aren’t any toys, and all the children have to play in is the bright white gravel that blankets the entire camp. Those white stones are there because the detention centre is right in the middle of a quarry that was once a central part of the island’s ailing phosphate mine.

There are 765 people locked in the Nauru detention centre right now. The camp is divided into different sections with single adult men held in one area and families, including mothers, babies and unaccompanied children, on the other side of the centre. It is the family compound where the desperation is at its most heart-wrenchingly intense and it is the pregnant women who are the most afraid of what the future will hold.

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Every refugee I spoke to referred to the camp as a ”jail” and many wanted to know what they had done to warrant their imprisonment. A widowed father of two told me, as his eyes filled with tears, ”My children ask me every day, when are we getting out of this prison? Every day I lie to them, but now I have no lies left.”

Among the adults that I spoke to there were many highly skilled, highly educated people. I spoke to doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, a psychologist and a journalist. These people want to contribute to Australian society but, instead, we are destroying them, mentally and emotionally.

In conditions as harsh as those on Nauru it is often the small things, the day-to-day things, which weigh heaviest on people’s minds. While I was in the family compound, distraught children repeatedly came to me and begged for new shoes because theirs had worn through and the hot gravel was hurting their feet. They said that when they asked the detention centre staff for shoes their pleas were ignored and that their parents couldn’t do anything to ease their pain.

One child said to me, ”Sometimes I think we are treated like animals, but then I realise animals have a better life than we do in this place.” It is beyond question that this government’s policies are creating the next generation of damaged children.

There is a battle of wills taking place on Nauru right now. The Australian government is trying to break the spirit of these vulnerable people in the hope that they’ll return to the countries from which they have fled. This indignity and the lack of control that the refugees have over their own lives is being carried out methodically, with the aim of dehumanising those who have been locked up. The conditions are designed to break people and it’s sickening that young boys and girls are being abused like this.

Children are forced to line up for their meals, often spending hours in the beating sun every day just to get food. One morning when I arrived at the camp I saw a group of children lining up for lunch and then, when I left at the end of the day, those same children were lining up for dinner. I asked what they had done during the day and they looked at me, confused, and shrugged. ”Lining up for lunch, lining up for dinner,” one of the children said, and left it at that.

History has shown us that more than 90 per cent of the people that we’ve locked up in the white-hot compound on Nauru will be found to be genuine refugees. In the future we’re going to have to explain to our grandchildren how this all came about; how human beings were left in appalling conditions, in between the rubbish dump and the phosphate mine on Nauru, because of the form of transport that they used to flee from war and persecution in their homelands.

Sarah Hanson-Young is an Australian Greens senator for South Australia.

Source: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/agony-of-children-treated-worse-than-animals-20131218-2zl90.html#ixzz2nvlZUzM3

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Salvation Army humanitarian work on Manus and Nauru to end

December 14, 2013

The Salvos’ $74m contract to provide services, including counselling, to asylum seekers held offshore will not be renewed

Manus Island detention centre in November 2012
Manus island detention centre. Photograph: AAP

The Salvation Army will no longer be providing humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers housed in offshore processing centres on Manus and Nauru, and G4S, the private security company contracted to manage facilities on Manus, has also not had its contract renewed, Guardian Australia can reveal.

The Salvos held a $74m contract with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to provide services including counselling to asylum seekers held offshore.

A spokesman for the Salvation Army confirmed this contract would not be renewed when it ends on 31 January 2014.

It was unclear who would administer these services after then or if these services would continue.

Guardian Australia understands that senior staff from the Salvos and G4S were told by the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, on Thursday evening their contracts would not be renewed.

G4S holds an $80.5m contract with DIBP to provide “management support services” on Manus. It will not be renewed at the end of January 2014.

A spokesman for G4S said “it is our policy not to comment on contractual matters”. It is unclear what arrangements will be made for management of the Manus site after the G4S contract expires.

The moves come as Morrison revealed a $1.2bn “black hole” in budgeting for offshore processing, which the minister blamed on the previous government.

At his weekly press conference on Friday afternoon, Morrison announced that a range of contracts were due to expire at the end of January and the department did not have provisions to renew them.

He said there would be some savings from the reduced number of asylum seekers arriving at the detention centres but the government was reviewing the contracts for “efficiencies” and would be making comments in the coming weeks.

Morrison did not elaborate on the termination of the Salvos’ contract when asked specifically about it.

“I wouldn’t be making any comment on those matters at this stage, only to say that the contract arrangements for our offshore operations are in the process of being determined with a view to improving our operational effectiveness at all of those centres based on everything we’ve been gleaning for the past 13 weeks since we’ve been in office,” he said.

When told the Salvation Army had confirmed the contract termination, Morrison refused to say whether another provider would be brought in to provide the services, saying: “I provided the answer I’m giving today.”

The Salvation Army were contracted to provide welfare and support services in all offshore processing facilities. These services includedproviding educational and recreational opportunities including facilitating English classes and access to gym facilities and computers.

The Salvos also organised excursions and cultural events for asylum seekers.

The Salvation Army’s presence on Nauru and Manus was criticised as hypocritical by some, as the organisation is opposed to the offshore processing of asylum seekers.

In the past, Salvation Army workers have blown the whistle on harsh conditions at both Manus and Nauru.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/13/salvation-army-humanitarian-work-on-manus-and-nauru-to-end

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Asylum seekers Children found in distress UN denounces inhumanity of island centres

November 27, 2013

Refugees at the Nauru detention centre.Detention limbo: A UN report has found at the time of the agency visit, only 160 of the 1093 asylum seekers held on Manus Island had lodged asylum claims. Photo: Angela Wylie

Offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island are more focused on sending asylum seekers home than promoting “safe, fair and humane conditions”, a scathing United Nations report has found.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees visited the centres in October, and on Tuesday issued reports finding that Australia’s agreements with its island neighbours had left hundreds in limbo.

The findings paint an especially dire picture for children and survivors of torture.

Nauru accommodation blocks were destroyed and are now unusable.Concerning conditions: The July 19 riots in Nauru left many of the buildings dilapidated and unusable. Photo: Supplied

Nauru inspectors met some of the 95 child detainees, who drew pictures highlighting their distress.

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The inspectors found children were living in hot, humid, cramped conditions with little privacy, were not going to school and their parents held deep concerns for their mental health. At the time of the UN visit, there were 801 asylum seekers on Nauru and 1091 asylum seekers on Manus Island, including two unaccompanied children.

The UN found the morale of asylum seekers was extremely low because of delays in processing and uncertainty about their futures.

Just one asylum seeker on Nauru has had their refugee protection claim processed in 14 months, the inspectors found, while none of the asylum seekers on Manus Island had been processed in the 12 months since Australia and Papua New Guinea struck the deal to send asylum seekers bound for Australia to Papua New Guinea.

The agency raised particular concern about the inability of Papua New Guinea’s officials to process asylum seekers’ claims for protection. It painted a picture of confusion and incompetence at the Papua New Guinean centre; for example, there were no clear laws or regulatory guidelines in place for the Papua New Guinean Foreign Affairs Minister or other officials to follow when judging asylum seekers’ claims.

At the time of the agency’s visit, the Papua New Guinean government – which is in charge of processing asylum claims for those Australia sends – had recruited just five officers to make refugee status determinations. Only two or three were on duty at any time, the agency reported, and it will take at least six months before they are able to make decisions “with any degree of sufficiency”.

Of the 1093 asylum seekers held at Manus Island when the UNHCR visited on October 28, only 160 had been able to lodge asylum claims.

Instead, a “return-oriented environment” had developed at both island centres, with no local legal support for asylum seekers.

The UNHCR was concerned that asylum seekers – including some who were “bona fide refugees” – would consider returning because of the uncertainty around processing, lengthy delays in processing and the prospect of settling in Papua New Guinea.

The UNHCR’s director of international protection, Volker Turk, said: “These reports must be seen in the context of what UNHCR has observed to be a sharp deterioration, during the course of the year, in the overall quality of protection and support available to asylum seekers and refugees who come to Australia by boat.

“Indeed, they highlight that, when policies and practices are based primarily on deterrence, they can have harmful and, at times, punishing consequences for people affected, particularly families and children.”

The UN recommended that all pregnant asylum seekers be removed from Nauru until adequate medical facilities are available.

Since the July 19 riot, there had been a deterioration in conditions and all processing had stopped.

Source: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/asylum-seekers-children-found-in-distress-un-denounces-inhumanity-of-island-centres-20131126-2y889.html

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Asylum seeker children evacuated from Nauru due to health issues

November 24, 2013

A group of unaccompanied child asylum seekers has been transferred from Nauru to Brisbane amid concerns about their mental health and fears they may try to self-harm.

The medical evacuation, which began on Friday, has occurred in part because the Nauruan government has expressed safety concerns about the children.

Further, it is understood that one of the children being medically evacuated is a teenage girl who was only sent to Nauru three days ago. Fairfax Media has been told by well-placed sources one of the girls had attempted suicide on Christmas Island in recent weeks and had also been self-harming but that did not prevent her deportation from Nauru.

It is understood that four children – one boy and three girls – were living on the Pacific island and were not going to school.

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A spokeswoman for the Nauruan government confirmed that three children had been transferred off the island on Friday. She was unsure what had happened with the fourth unaccompanied child asylum seeker.

The Nauruan Justice Minister is the legal guardian of unaccompanied minors.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, said: ”Any health transfers occur in accordance with standing policies. The government’s policy is that there are no exceptions to offshore processing. Health services are constantly reviewed to ensure they are provided to the appropriate standard.”

Meanwhile, the independent schools sector has called for asylum seeker children denied education on Christmas Island to be urgently brought to the mainland.

Up to 433 asylum seeker children interred at Christmas Island’s detention centres are being prevented from going to school as the centres swell with asylum seekers.

According to the most recent figures, as the Manus Island and Nauru centres fill, there were , 2217 asylum seekers, including 433 children – 76 of them unaccompanied.

The Immigration Minister’s office referred questions about the children to a November 8 press conference, in which he said no decision had been made about the fate of the children.

”These issues are not insurmountable and I am sure, with continued consultation, that we will be able to put in place appropriate arrangements to meet all of our obligations,” Mr Morrison said. ”And I should stress that no final decisions have been taken on how that matter will be addressed.”

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/asylum-seeker-children-evacuated-from-nauru-due-to-health-issues-20131123-2y2mb.html#ixzz2lZq9tXfa

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Unaccompanied girl sent to detention on Nauru, refugee advocates say

November 21, 2013

Asylum seeker advocates say an unaccompanied teenage girl has been sent to Australia’s immigration detention centre on Nauru.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) has obtained two photos showing a young girl getting off a flight.

On the tarmac is an orange witches hat that says Air Nauru. The only other people in the photos are ground staff and a police officer.

Pamela Curr from the ARSC says the girl came off the plane first and alone.

“While she was on Christmas Island, the Minister for Immigration was her guardian,” she told ABC’s PM program.

“When he authorised the placing of her on a plane and sending her offshore, he cut that, he himself cut that legal responsibility and placed her in danger.”

On Friday, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed there were three other unaccompanied minors on Nauru.

 

ChilOut, a not-for-profit organisation that wants to end children in detention, says there are more than 100 children detained on Nauru.

The organisation’s campaign director, Sophie Peer, says she is extremely disappointed but not shocked that an unaccompanied minor is on Nauru.

“We knew that Minister Morrison, even as the guardian for these vulnerable children, did plan to send them to remote detention on Nauru indefinitely,” she said.

“We certainly ask of him to reconsider and to bring these children where they belong, back to the mainland of Australia and to be treated as children.”

Advocates highlight sex assault risk

Ms Peer says the conditions on Nauru are not appropriate for a young girl on her own.

“What we understand is, of course, insufficient power, insufficient water [on Nauru],” she said.

“The people are living in Army-style tents that have no air conditioning. It’s hot. It’s dusty. There’s absolutely no privacy. It’s quite a long walk to the toilet block from the accommodation tents.”

Ms Curr says there have been sexual assaults reported in other detention centres.

“There’s always that risk,” she said.

“We know from young men, unaccompanied minors who are sent to Manus, that they made allegations of being raped. We don’t know what is going to happen to this girl.”

A statement from the Immigration Minister sent to the ABC says it is government policy that families who arrive illegally by boat are sent to Nauru and there are no exemptions to the policy.

It also says the publication of images of asylum seekers can place relatives of those persons at risk in their home countries.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-20/unaccompanied-girl-sent-to-detention-on-nauru-refugee-advocates/5105678

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Canberra shifts asylum seekers from Nauru to repeat process

October 30, 2013

The Refugee Action Coalition says Australia has flown 68 asylum seekers from Nauru to Australia, taking the total transferred from the island to Australia in the past nine days to about 250.

The latest arrivals at the Curtin detention camp in Western Australia included 19 Sri Lankans and 49 of other nationalities.

The Coalition says all of these asylum seekers had finalised their refugee interviews on Nauru – but none has been given a decision, despite the process being completed in some cases eight months ago.

It says the group has been told that regardless of any refugee interviews on Nauru, determinations of their status will be restarted in Australia.

The Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says it would be hard to find a more graphic example of administrative abuse, given that the asylum seekers had kept on Nauru for over a year with Australia insisting the Nauru government was making the refugee determinations.

Meanwhile, the newspaper, The Australian, says just one refugee ruling has been made on Nauru – that of a minor, who has since been moved to Australia.

News Content © Radio New Zealand International
PO Box 123, Wellington, New Zealand

Source: http://www.rnzi.com/pages/news.php?op=read&id=80187

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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

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Families and children face stay on Christmas Island as PNG transfers in doubt

October 22, 2013 | The Australian

Asylum-seekers arrive at Christmas Island

Customs officials carry out checks on a group of asylum-seekers at Christmas Island yesterday. Source:Supplied

CHRISTMAS Island will be converted into an indefinite holding facility for an estimated 400 asylum-seeker children and their parents, as the Coalition moves away from Kevin Rudd’s commitment that every person who arrived by boat after July 19 would be sent to Papua New Guinea.

Amid concerns of possible unrest and protests on Christmas Island, immigration officials were last night preparing to tell asylum-seekers who arrived after July 19 but before the September 7 election that they would not be transferred in the foreseeable future to Manus Island or Nauru, where their claims for asylum could be assessed.

Mr Rudd announced in July that no asylum-seeker would be able to settle in Australia if they arrived by boat without a visa and vowed that all new boat arrivals would be sent to PNG, where their claims would be assessed. He later struck a similar deal with Nauru.

The Coalition has so far kept Labor’s policy with respect to both PNG and Nauru, but the new development suggests some asylum-seekers who arrived post July 19 are not immediately bound for offshore processing. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection strives to send all arrivals offshore within 48 hours, including families.

Senior sources on Christmas Island told The Australian yesterday that those who arrived between July 19 and the election would be held indefinitely on Christmas Island, unless they agreed to go home or capacity became available to move them to Manus Island or Nauru.

The local school and the organisations that work with asylum-seeker children on Christmas Island have been informed that their charges would be staying indefinitely, unless further capacity became available in the system.

Holding children in indefinite detention was a highly contentious aspect of the Howard government’s immigration policies. In 2005, in response to growing anger, the Migration Act was changed to include the principle that children should be detained only “as a measure of last resort”.

A plan to inform the asylum-seekers of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s decision was yesterday postponed when an asylum boat carrying about 40 people arrived at the island’s Flying Fish Cove, diverting resources and staff. “Anyone who arrived from July 19 to September 7 who are the legacy of Rudd will be staying on Christmas Island and never going to the mainland,” one detention worker said.

One immigration worker said the intention was not to send the families to Nauru or Manus Island, though “this cohort can still be subjected to offshore detention at any time, particularly if there is space”.

“Everyone who arrived post-election (is going) straight to offshore within 48 hours.”

Mr Morrison said last night all those who had arrived since the election were being transferred offshore, and those who arrived after July 19 would not be settled in Australia. “Anyone who arrives illegally by boat will not be settled in Australia. There will be no exemptions. They will not get what they paid for,” he said.

About 2000 asylum-seekers arrived by boat between July 19 and the election. Of those, 972 detainees – the bulk were single men – were flown off the island to Manus Island and Nauru before Australians went to the polls.

There is growing concern about the pace at which facilities on Nauru and Manus are being ramped up by the Coalition. As of Friday, there were 1061 asylum-seekers on Manus, 827 on Nauru and 2211 on Christmas Island.

Insiders familiar with the PNG and Nauru facilities say the pace of development and the amenities are not sufficient to accommodate the rapidly rising populations.

On Nauru, asylum-seekers, including family groups, are still being housed in tents where temperatures can top 40C. There is concern that as the numbers build and as processing begins, tensions will erupt as asylum-seekers have their refugee claims rejected.

Christmas Island is being set up for long-term detention, according to guards who work there. They say the immigration department wants to establish activities and programs to avoid allowing malcontent to build as it did among long-term detainees in the lead-up to riots at the island’s main detention centre in 2011.

News that Christmas Island was to be reorganised came as the government and Labor skirmished over the Coalition’s decision to restore the emotive term “illegal” to the official lexicon.

Last week, Mr Morrison told Immigration to dump the words “irregular maritime arrival” in favour of “illegal” arrival – a term refugee advocates argue demonises asylum-seekers.

Labor’s new spokesman on immigration, Richard Marles, accused Mr Morrison of wilfully politicising the asylum issue.

“Those who come by boat are not the enemy,” Mr Marles said.

Mr Morrison defended the changes, which included substituting “clients” for “detainees” to describe asylum-seekers. “I’m not going to make any apologies for not using politically correct language to describe something that I am trying to stop,” he said.

Yesterday, Indonesian police in the province of Banten captured 240 would-be asylum-seekers, a reminder that the smuggling trade remains active, despite a marked drop in boat arrivals.

Additional reporting: Telly Nathalia

Sourcet: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/families-and-children-face-stay-on-christmas-island-as-png-transfers-in-doubt/story-fn9hm1gu-1226744122598?sv=7bce6f52852294f360daa897c146f406#sthash.H7Y1Qfx1.8KVazaEX.dpuf

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