Monthly Archives: May 2012

Asylum seekers arrive at Cocos Island

May 30, 2012

A boatload of asylum seekers has arrived at Cocos Islands, 2750 kilometres north-west of Perth, overnight

Islander John Clunies-Ross said the large boat had about 40 men on board, one of whom was visibly sick, and an unknown number of women and children.

He believed they had travelled from Sri Lanka before arriving at Cocos Islands sometime last night.

Volunteers were now helping the island’s two Federal Police and Customs officials to process and quarantine the asylum seekers, who will likely be housed at the Cocos Club, the island’s only pub and cyclone shelter.

“The other issue at the moment is our ship hasn’t unloaded our supplies yet and the shop here services only 100 people and you put an extra 100-odd people in here over three weeks and you’re really stretching our stocks,” Mr Clunies-Ross said.

A resident who did not wish to be named said the arrivals would put a large strain on island volunteers, community groups and clubs and the supermarket.

“All the volunteers also have their other jobs, they’re teachers and electricians and shire workers, they all have to give up their jobs to go and volunteer,” she said.

“It’s a big strain on the local community. It’s definitely not an ideal situation.”



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UPDATED: Asylum seekers stage hunger strikes throughout nation

May 29, 2012

Iranian asylum seekers have sought refuge in a church in Nørrebro in protest at their rejected cases (Photo: Scanpix)

Ten Iranians are latest to hungerstrike in attempt draw attention to their uncertain futures

UPDATE (May 29, 16:00):

Eleven Iranian asylum seekers, ten of whom are on hunger strike, vacated Stefans Church in Nørrebro this afternoon.

The Iranians had taken refuge in the church since last Wednesday and left after being given an ultimatum by the church council to either eat and stay, or continue their hunger strike elsewhere.

They have now taken up residence on the second floor of Demokratihuset, a political community center with affiliations to the political left-wing.

Stinna Gammelgaard, spokesperson for Enhedlisten Vesterbro, said the party had no intention to evict them.

“We have neither the power nor the will to throw them on the street,” Gammelgaard told Vesterbro Bladet. “They are people in need and we are monitoring the situation calmly.”


Several groups of asylum seekers, numbering around 80 in total, are staging hunger strikes across Denmark. The groups have varying motivations – some have had their asylum cases rejected, while others are protesting their standards of living as a result of being barred from working and living outside asylum centres.

The most high profile case concerns a group of 10 Iranian asylum seekers who have had their cases rejected and have sought refuge in Stefans Church in Nørrebro.

The Iranians are all Christians and their hunger strike, which started on Wednesday when they moved into the church, is a protest against their rejected asylum cases and their fear of persecution should they be returned to Iran.

The Iranians have been in Denmark for different lengths of time, though some have been living in asylum centres for as long as eight years while they wait for their cases to be completed.

“We have been living in a Red Cross centre without internet and normal contact to people outside the centres,” one of the ten asylum seekers, Amir Hossein Shahidi Asl, told Ritzau news service. “We are living in a vacuum and don’t know what to do.”

Under current rules, asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and many complain that this leads to isolation and related mental health issues while they wait, often for many years, for the authorities to complete their asylum claims and either grant them residency or deport them to their home country.

Many rejected asylum seekers are forced to live in this limbo indefinitely as they come from countries that the Danish government is unable to return them to, either due to political or military instability or because their own authorities refuse to accept them back.

This is the case with a group of 18 Syrian asylum seekers that have been on hunger strike for over three weeks in the Sigerslev Asylum Centre.

“Half of them have had their cases rejected but they cannot be returned to Syria, so there is no certainty over how much more time they will have to live in the centres,” Helle Jørgensen, head of the Sigerslev Asylum Centre, told Politiken newspaper. “I have tried to tell them that hunger striking is not a form of protest that we are used to in Denmark and that the authorities do not work under that sort of pressure. But then they say that they might as well die here because they would die in Syria anyway.”

Other asylum seekers on hunger strike include a group of 13 Iranians at the Sandholm Asylum Centre who have not eaten in about a week, 12 Syrians at Jelling Asylum Centre, five Syrians at a centre in Holmegård and 15 Syrians who have been on hunger strike for over a week at Brovst Asylum Centre.

The government is currently considering giving asylum seekers the right to work after six months, though there are concerns that this right will not extend to all asylum seekers.

The occupation of Stefans Church is a similar move to the failed Iraqi asylum seekers who spent three months in the nearby Brorsons Kirke in 2009 before being forcibly deported.


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Navy intercepts asylum seeker boat

May 28, 2012


The navy has intercepted a suspected asylum seeker boat carrying 88 people off Australia’s northwest coast.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said HMAS Ararat, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted the boat northwest of Christmas Island on Monday.

Mr Clare said the boat was initially detected by Customs and Border Protection surveillance aircraft.

He said the passengers would be transferred to Christmas Island for initial security, health and identity checks.


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Threatened Pakistani Journalist Seeks Asylum in Australia

May 25, 2012

A Pakistani minority journalist being held at the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, 40 kilometers southeast of Derby in West Australia, says he now feels “protected” from Islamic terrorist groups that had threatened to kill him in his home country. Amjad Hussain, 38, a print and broadcast journalist, was the only reporter from the often marginalized Hazara ethnic community working in Pakistan’s mainstream media in Islamabad, the nation’s capital. In less than a decade, extremist groups have killed nearly 600 Hazaras for practicing a Shia version of Islam in Sunni majority Pakistan. Hussain describes himself as a Hazara modernist, a secular professional who has come under attack for his ethnicity and for highlighting the human rights abuses committed by extremist groups and certain segments of the Pakistani security forces.

Hussain was a journalist with two respected Pakistani media organizations. In October 2001, soon after the American invasion of Afghanistan, he joined the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP), the state-run news agency, to work as a reporter in Quetta, his birthplace and the capital of the troubled southwestern Balochistan province. As a correspondent with the official wire service, Hussain provided exclusive coverage on the visits of Pakistan’s top officials, including the president, prime minister, army chief of staff, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. In March 2007, he left his job at the APP to join Dawn News, a highly reputed private news channel.

As a reporter for Pakistan’s first English-language independent news outlet, Hussain began to explore critical issues with more freedom. He reported on sectarian and extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and human rights abuses targeting the Baloch and Hazara communities. This coverage, however, cost him a heavy price. He began receiving threatening phone calls urging him to stop reporting on the killings and kidnappings of Hazara and Baloch political activists.

“I was deeply perturbed to see the ruthless murders of my fellow journalists and the Baloch political activists for their difference of opinion with [the] Pakistan Army,” he recalls. “This situation was intolerable for me and I felt obliged to report these excesses.”

On April 16, 2010, Syed Arshad Zaidi, a banker and one of Hussain’s “dearest friends from college days,” was target killed in Quetta. On the same day, Hussain received an anonymous call warning, “you escaped this time. Next time you won’t.” In response to these threats, Hussain began to regularly change the route and timing of his office trips as a self-devised strategy to escape a potential assassination attempt.

“My wife was undergoing an unbearable agony and had virtually turned into a psychic patient as she used to spend all her days sitting on [a] prayer mat, praying for my safety till my getting back home from duty,” he remembers.

Threats from extremist groups were not the only problem that Hussain had to contend with. He says he was under constant pressure from the media wing of Pakistan’s Army, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), to not file any news stories on human rights abuses committed by the military and paramilitary forces against Baloch nationalist. For almost a decade, Pakistan has brutally suppressed the Baloch nationalist movement that seeks maximum internal autonomy and control over the mineral wealth of the province, hence propelling an armed resistance by certain segments of the nationalist movement.

In 2006, for example, the Pakistan army had taken Hussain and several other journalists to the conflict zones to cover the anti-Baloch (nationalist) military operation. “The army and the Frontier Corps [a paramilitary force] forced us to report in their favor. They did not allow us to ask questions of our choice from military officials.” Hussain said that he “was shocked to see that even many senior journalists in Quetta and Islamabad were on the payroll of the Pakistani military.”

As a Shia Hazara journalist, Hussain remained under persistent threat: “My community people have been bearing the grudge of these actors both in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last two decades.”

“These threats turned my life into a hell,” he confides. As he continued to receive death threats, Hussain decided to leave his birthplace, Quetta, to go to Islamabad which he deemed less risky. “I, as director News of Dawn TV, authorized his transfer,” confirms Syed Mubashir Zaidi, editor of Dawn News and Hussain’s former boss. “Hussain was shifted to Islamabad from Quetta in 2009 on his request after he reported of feeling threatened.”

While in Islamabad, Hussain was unable to frequently visit his family in Quetta due to threats on his life and the constant attacks on Hazaras in Pakistan’s southwestern province.

Furthermore, he was surprised to learn from conversations with credible sources about the close “nexus between [the] Pakistan Army and the sectarian groups.” The extremist groups, he says, receive funding from the intelligence section of the Pakistan army and, as a result, enjoy impunity from law enforcement agencies for their actions.

Hence, even though he was far from Quetta, he continued to experience a lack of safety while working for Dawn News in Islamabad. “I was under constant fear of being kidnapped or targeted while moving around the capital,” he recollects. “I continued reporting against the murders of the Hazaras and the Baloch.” Here again, Hussain received another anonymous call warning him that he would not be able to find safety anywhere in Pakistan, including Islamabad, and to prepare for the “worst consequences.” He believes the caller was alluding to murder as the “worst consequence” for his continued reporting.

The phone call instantly alerted Hussain and brought back memories of the killing of Saleem Shahzad, a fellow journalist from the Asia Times, who had been kidnapped and killed in May 2011, allegedly by Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a wing of the national army. Hussain had known Shahzad very well. In 2003, he had traveled and worked with Shahzad in the Pakistani-Afghanistan border town of Chaman to investigate a story on the Taliban.

“I did not want to become another Saleem Shahzad. I was not ready to move to a third city and still meet Shahzad’s fate.” Hence, on Oct. 15, 2011, Hussain resigned from his position at Dawn and later applied for political asylum in Australia.

“My wife and children are still in Pakistan. I am very much concerned about their safety and livelihood,” he says while appealing to Australian authorities to help him reunite with his family without delay.

Hussain says that the Australian government has generously embraced at-risk Hazaras at this critical time when “many nations of the world have turned a deaf ear to our people’s appeal for protection.”

Life as an asylum-seeker is nevertheless hard. Looking back, he says he had earned a very good name and fame after years of hard work in Pakistan. “I had a prestigious job and a happy life with my wife and kids. But, now all is gone. It may require me another 38 years of my life to regain all that professional prestige in Australia. I am a complete stranger to this environment and I have to start my life afresh. In fact, the life in asylum has no match with the life in one’s own country,” he says.

Hussain has written letters to Australia’s former Premier Kevin Rud and Immigration Minister Chris Evans seeking their help on grounds that his life remains threatened in his home country. Though the immigration minister expressed sympathy in a personal communication with Hussain, Mr. Evans noted regret at not being able to directly offer any personal assistance.

Hussain sees no hope of returning to Pakistan and still remaining alive there. “A country where one’s survival is at stake and where the guardians of your life have turned into your killers is not worth living in.”

“Life is granted once. It is too precious to be eliminated by a bullet of terrorists,” he concludes. “I have a fundamental humanitarian right to live and ask for asylum.”

How the Australian government responds to his call remains to be seen.


The views expressed in his article are personal and do not reflect the policy of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) where the writer is currently a Regan-Fascell Democracy Fellow.

Follow Malik Siraj Akbar on Twitter:

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Filed under Analysis, Detention Centers, Talented Asylum Seekers

Where are SBS’s ‘Go Back’ celebrities coming from?

May 25, 2012

SBS has today revealed the line-up for its second series of the hit documentary Go Back To Where You Came From, with former Howard defence minister Peter Reith confirmed to join five other well-known Australians for the reality show.

Reith is best remembered for his role in the ‘children overboard’ controversy in 2001, when the federal government claimed asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea.

He famously released pictures purporting to back up the claims. A senate inquiry later found the claims had no basis, while Reith has continually defended his actions.

So while we know where Reith will be coming from when he ‘goes back’, what about the rest of SBS’s boatload of reverse refugees?

Mike Smith

The former shock jock has made a living whipping up outrage at Sydney’s 2UE, with the plight of asylum seekers (or “illegal Centrelink seekers” as he has called them) often falling into his crosshairs. He was one of many to complain about the government paying for family members of those who died in the Christmas Island boat tragedy to attend their funerals.

Smith also doesn’t like asylum seeker advocates, referring to them as vultures, and calls detainees who self-harm “malingerers”. He has also attacked a “luxury” hotel where asylum seekers were being held in Brisbane:

“Foxtel, internet, maids, all the washing done all that sort of thing, there is no chance in this country if you’re in strife to get up and say ‘actually I wouldn’t mind a bit of asylum thank you…'”

Angry Anderson

The hard-rocking Rose Tattoo frontman joined the National Party last year with an eye at pushing for a seat at the next federal election. He’s an anti-carbon tax campaigner, but also has his own strong views about immigration and multiculturalism.

“It’s not ill-conceived to look at certain people and question when they come out here what they bring with them,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2007.

“We have strict quarantine laws and it should be the same when it comes to cultures that do not want to integrate. We should be very careful about where certain Muslims come from and what they believe. If you come here, you should behave yourself – it’s as simple as that.”

Catherine Deveny

The former Melbourne Age columnist is renowned for her outspoken left-wing political views, particularly on religion, and has been an advocate for Australia increasing its asylum seeker intake.

She regularly takes to Twitter to vent about the government’s immigration policies and the media’s coverage of asylum seekers, and has appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A to argue her case.

“If the asylum seekers were French people on boats trying to get into Australia no one would be complaining. Fuck Off We’re Racist,” is just a sample of one of Dev’s tweets (there are plenty more if you’re game).

Allen Asher

Asher resigned last year as Commonwealth ombudsman after it was revealed he had scripted questions about immigration detention for Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to ask him at Senate estimates. He was just 14 months into a five-year contract.

During his time as ombudsman Asher released a number of reports which were critical of the federal government’s immigration detention policies. After his resignation he attacked the government for its “shameful” policies which were “repeatedly in breach of its own immigration detention values.”

“It’s just a tragedy that it’s been so slow and grudging and a Government that seems to be just so riven by fear exhibiting a form of moral cowardice where individuals were not prepared to speak out in favour of Australia’s formal policy for fear of either electoral or media backlash,” he told ABC Radio.

Imogen Bailey

The former lads mag centrefold and soapie actress is an advocate for animal rights, posing near-naked in a series of campaigns for PETA. As well as crusading against fur, elephant cruelty and bull-riding, the Celebrity Big Brother star has demanded KFC clean up its act.

“As the head of KFC in Australia, you have the power [to] improve the way that chickens are treated, and I hope you will take action to do so,” the vegetarian once wrote to former KFC boss Albert Baladi. “Take it from me: No “chick” wants to be treated like a piece of meat.”


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Filed under Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Amnesty International report shows why Australia must never revisit the Malaysia swap deal for seekers

May 24, 2012

Amnesty International’s latest annual report card explains in clear terms the risks involved were the Gillard government to succeed in its quest to resurrect the inhumane Malaysian people swap, according to the Australian Greens.

“The report states the deal to expel 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 refugees who were awaiting resettlement would contravene our international obligations to people seeking our protection,” Greens’ human rights spokesperson, Sen. Sarah Hanson-Young, said.

“It cites the successful legal challenge to the deal which resulted in the High Court reminding the Gillard government it must abide by the obligations of the Migration Act. The act forbids Australia from expelling people to places where their rights could not be guaranteed.

“Malaysia in August 2011 broke international law by forcibly returning Uighurs to China, routinely detains undocumented migrants indefinitely and in some cases canes them.

“The Gillard government ought to stop trying to revive the Malaysian deal as the Greens will never support it.

“Australia is also continuing to breach the Refugee Convention by warehousing asylum seekers indefinitely in remote and inhospitable parts of the continent. This is causing easily preventable mental and physical damage to people who’ve fled persecution, torture and trauma.

“The Amnesty report also notes the shameful continued violation of the rights of First Australians. For example, indigenous residents in remote parts of the Northern Territory have limited access to basic services like water.

“Instead of being a world leader in upholding people’s rights, Australia has in the past year recoiled and rejected many United Nations recommendations that would have improved human rights.

“While the federal government agreed to ratify an Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and consider ratifying a convention for indigenous people, several important rights advancements continue to be ignored.

“On a positive note, in February 2012 all Australian federal, state and territory governments endorsed a national plan to reduce violence against women and children.

“The Greens will continue monitoring how governments are adhering to this plan, as well as continuing our efforts to ensure the government stops trampling on the rights of Australia’s indigenous people, asylum seekers and other people at risk of harm.”


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition, Human Rights and Refugee Activists

Northam centre ready for its 600 detainees

May 24, 2012

Northam centre ready for its 600 detaineesThe $124 million Northam immigration detention centre is due to be finished tomorrow but the  Government refuses to say when the first asylum seekers will arrive.

Immigration Detention Services deputy secretary John Moorhouse has told a Senate estimates committee the centre, which has been plagued by delays, would be ready this week.

The Immigration Department  also will not say which facilities the detainees are coming from or give an official opening date for the centre, which was to house 1500 single men but later cut to 600 after a community backlash.

The centre includes two soccer pitches, a medical centre, classrooms and accommodation.

A department spokeswoman said for reasons of safety and confidentiality information about detainees was not available until they were moved to a centre.

The estimates committee was told the centre was to be finished in March last year but met unexpected delays.

Northam Shire president Steven Pollard said he was told it could be weeks before the centre opened and feelings about it were still mixed.

Riots on Christmas Island last year unsettled some residents but security provider Serco assured them it could prevent any breakout.

“The concern about men-only, I gather, is that the mob mentality could take over,” Mr Pollard said.

“If you have 600 people there,  they could overcome the security system.”

Refugee Rights Action Network spokesman Marcus Hampson said it was unlikely detainees would try to break out because they had risked their lives to get to Australia for asylum for themselves and  their families.

They would not want to  jeopardise their applications, he said. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the centre was within budget and scope and the lead contractor was responsible for delays.

Local businessman Lou Dimasi, whose property is near the centre, said he would not be too concerned about security as long as detainees were not allowed into the general community.

Retired sheep farmer Laura Fox, 80, said the centre was not needed because asylum seekers should be housed in the community.

“But if there has to be a detention centre, I would rather they have it in a civilised area rather than the back of beyond,” she said.


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