Monthly Archives: March 2013

Plight of the Hazara fails to move stone hearts in Canberra

March 31, 2013


Supporters rally in Sydney’s Martin Place for freedom for the Hazara people. Picture: Bradley Hunter Source: The Australian

IN the world of refugees there are many deserving causes, but the Hazaras of Afghanistan and western Pakistan make up a large proportion of asylum-seekers boarding leaky boats to Australia.

The Hazaras are among the most educated of Afghan tribes and are a marked people, their distinctive Mongolian facial features a target for hatred. As the educated elite of Afghanistan, they have often found themselves the victims of discrimination and persecution and ethnically or religiously targeted assassinations.

Waves of hatred and violence have been directed against them and thousands have fled their homelands in western Afghanistan in the past 20 years as the Taliban hunted them down because of their intellect, their independence and their Shia Muslim faith.

In August 1998, in Mazar-e-Sharif, the Taliban massacred more than 2000 Hazaras in three days: many were shot in the streets or in their homes; 30 were shot in hospital beds; some were boiled to death in steel containers.

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Land confiscation, mosque burnings, bombings and beheadings have been commonplace.

An estimated 500,000 Hazaras have fled to seek refuge in and around the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, in the wilds of western Pakistan. But the pogroms continue.

Last year 400 mainly Hazara Shia Muslims were murdered in western Pakistan – making it possibly the bloodiest year in living memory for the Shia population of Pakistan.

This year Sunni terrorists have made good on their promise to launch attacks within Hazara neighbourhoods in Quetta if they did not flee the city by the beginning of 2013.

In January, a bomb exploded outside a Quetta billiard hall popular with the Hazara refugees. The initial blast killed several people, but, 10 minutes later, as people rushed to the aid of those wounded in the attack, a car bomb exploded just outside the club, killing dozens more.

When the dust settled, 96 people, mostly Hazara Shias, were dead. Numerous business owners in Quetta’s main markets have been shot dead in their shops.

Pilgrims going to Iran by bus have been killed by roadside bombs; ordinary citizens have been offloaded from local buses and shot dead by the side of the road.

Hazaras no longer feel safe even buying basic supplies at the city’s main vegetable market, and instead get others to do their shopping for them.

Already this year more than 230 Hazaras have been killed. Their militant Sunni attackers, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, acknowledged by Australia as a terrorist group, have declared: “It is our religious duty to kill all Shias and to cleanse Pakistan of this impure nation. It is our mission in Pakistan that every city, village and other place, every corner be cleansed of the Shia and the Shia Hazara.”

What has this got to do with Australians? Just one example should be enough.

Said Zaher and Zahra Alawi are Hazaras who came to Australia as refugees and have been proud Australian citizens since 2007; their contribution to our community has been exemplary.

For some time, fearful of what may soon befall those still in Quetta, they have been trying to sponsor seven family members to join them here.

However, the Australian Immigration Department summarily rejected the family’s sponsorship application, claiming their relatives didn’t meet refugee criteria and that it was safe for them to stay where they were.

The department took just two days from receiving the application to say no.

It’s impossible to see how this family cannot be considered refugees under any definition. They are also potential victims of genocide by any definition.

They were persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. They had their ancestral lands confiscated. They joined the Afghan army and worked with NATO forces that include Australia and have been subsequently targeted by Taliban sympathisers. Family members have been murdered in Afghanistan and now in Quetta, and their own lives have been threatened.

In the January Quetta bombing, all the windows in their home were blown in – the school their children had just returned from was destroyed.

They live a life under siege in a ghetto of death. With black humour, they say: “There is no space left in the graveyards.”

The Said Zaher and Zahra Alawi families have done the right thing by trying to use the right channels to bring their loved ones to Australia. Their sponsorship of the family members would be at no cost to the Australian taxpayer and there is a community of support waiting for them in Brisbane.

We supposedly take the issue of human rights seriously and so we should; but are these just words confounded by our lack of action? What are we saying to these people; getting on a leaky boat is worse than genocide?

Our immigration department and our immigration policies should represent the best of our values, not dishonour them.

Sue Boyce is a senator for Queensland



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Filed under Hazara Persecution, Human Rights and Refugee Activists, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

A mother and child exhausted: faces of the many who flee by sea

The Age | March 31, 2013

A mother and child are processed by Australian Customs and Department of<br />Immigration staff as several more boatloads of asylum seekers arrive<br />at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.<br />28th March 2013<br />Photo: Wolter Peeters

A mother and child are processed by Australian Customs and Department of
Immigration staff as several more boatloads of asylum seekers arrive
at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.
28th March 2013
Photo: Wolter Peeters

She sits in a wheelchair looking utterly defeated, a small child in her lap. She appears to be in her mid to late 30s, but it is difficult to tell through her exhaustion. Her daughter’s ears sparkle with little gold earrings and her cheeks glisten with tears.

We don’t know the woman’s name or the reason she is here but she is one of about 1000 people who made the same journey to Christmas Island’s jetty at Flying Fish Cove this week.

A record number of asylum seekers have come to Australian shores this year – more than 3300 have arrived by boat, compared with 1300 at the same time last year. The monsoon season – which slowed the boats to a trickle from November to February – is easing although not yet over.

This week Fairfax Media witnessed the quiet desperation of people as they arrived at the far-flung outpost of Australia.

As politicians quibbled in Canberra and across the mainland about who should be blamed for the boats, Indonesian fishing vessels continued their stubborn appearance on the horizon past Christmas Island.

The steady arrivals continue to occur amid Canberra’s piecemeal implementation of the Houston panel’s comprehensive recommendations to deal with the issue.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Australia is not alone in recording a surge in arrivals.

In 2012 almost half a million people filed claims for refugee protection around the world, the highest number in a decade and 8 per cent more than the previous year.


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Five asylum-seeker boats reached Australian shores

March 31, 2013

Five boats carrying more than 295 asylum seekers have been intercepted in the past 72 hours in Australian waters, said Home Affairs Ministers’ office.

According to initial information the boats were carrying 41, 86, 66, 76 and 29 people respectively. Four of them were being intercepted near Christmas Island while one boat was stopped by the authorities near Ashmore Reef on Thursday night.

Border Protection Command has transferred some of them and will make arrangements for the rest to be transferred to Christmas Island for initial health, security and identity checks.


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Hazaras flee ‘systematic genocide’ in Pakistan

March 30, 2013

Despite the risks of the long, slow boat trip to Australia – made starkly evident by the Christmas Island disaster this week when two asylum seekers drowned – hundreds of ethnic Hazaras in Pakistan are planning the same trip.

Facing what they have described as a ”systematic genocide” in Pakistan, more and more Hazaras are trying to leave by any means possible.

Fairfax Media understands the 95 asylum seekers on board the fishing boat that capsized off Christmas Island were all Pakistanis, some Hazara and others Pashtun. A boy aged four or five and a woman in her 30s died.

Hazaras, easily identifiable by their Asiatic features, have for generations been the target of sectarian violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sunni extremist groups, in particular Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have vowed to eliminate them because they are Shiite Muslims.

For hundreds of years, Afghan Hazaras have fled for the relative safety of Quetta, on Pakistan’s restive western border. The latest wave of refugees has been driven out of Afghanistan by Taliban violence.

But Quetta is no sanctuary. This year there has been an alarming increase in the rate and severity of attacks on Hazaras in Pakistan. In eight attacks, 216 Hazaras have been killed and more than 300 injured.

The deadliest was when a bomb in a snooker hall on January 10 killed 94 people. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.

In Pakistan, Hazara representatives told Fairfax young Hazaras, especially, feel they can no longer live in Pakistan.

”Young Hazara men are trying to go by boat, trying to get to Australia,” Yasin Changezi says.

”This is something that is normal, that everybody in Quetta, all of the youth, try to do. Money is not a problem for them but finding a legal way to leave Pakistan is a very real problem.”

Sajjad Hussain Changezi (no relation) says most asylum seekers paid about 700,000 Pakistan rupees ($6800) but up to 1.2 million rupees for the chance to go to Australia.

After a flight to Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand, they board boats from Indonesia. The risks are known.

”They calculate it. They openly say: ‘If I stay in Pakistan, there’s a bullet for me. If I try to go to Australia and I drown, I was already dead in Pakistan anyway. But I might make it and perhaps I can start a new life,”’ he says. ”More and more people from our community are making that decision.”

The diaspora website says more than 300 Hazara have died trying to get to Australia by boat. Sajjad believes the number may be more than three times that.

”Whenever a ship capsizes, it carries about 200 people, so many passengers,” he says. ”And we know of multiple occasions when the boats … have capsized in the waters between Indonesia and Australia.”

Last year, Afghanistan and Pakistan were two of the largest sources of asylum seekers coming to Australia. The number of Afghans who arrived on Australian shores rose 79 per cent to 3079, while Pakistanis jumped 84 per cent to 1512.

Australia’s Immigration Department does not release statistics on ethnicity but the vast majority are understood to be Hazara. There are now 50,000 Hazaras living in in Australia.

Almost all of Pakistan’s 600,000 Hazaras lived in two tiny, fortified enclaves within Quetta. Travelling outside the walls of Mehr Abad, or Hazara Town, means risking being shot or kidnapped.

Even inside the population is not safe. The snooker hall bombing inside Hazara Town has shaken its residents, Fatima Atif says.

”We live in an open jail, we have been completely isolated and nobody can move out without fear for their life,” she says. ”We don’t get chances to go for education, for business, for any kind of activity, not even to see someone. We don’t have any freedom.”

Sajjad says Hazaras are victims of a ”systematic genocide”.

”We are specifically targeted because of the way we look,” he says. ”There is an assumption that every Hazara is a Shiite.”

For Hazaras in Quetta, there are few opportunities for work or study. Hazara-run businesses are forced to shut down, or their owners kidnapped. The University of Balochistan formerly had 300 Hazaras enrolled, now it has none, after buses carrying Hazara students were blown up.

”I’ve not lost my siblings but I’ve lost two first cousins, many friends and many second cousins,” Sajjad says. ”And I have a friend whose brother was drowned trying to get to Australia. I know a family, the whole family, the mother, the sister, her daughters and sons, all were drowned – except one son, he survived.”

Atif lost a cousin. ”Imran drowned in August but some in our family is still hoping he might be alive,” she says. ”He has not been announced as dead, he is just lost.”

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi , based in Punjab and with links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, openly boasts that it intends to keep attacking Hazaras.

”We are neither afraid of Governor’s rule nor the Pakistan Army and we will continue to kill Shiite Hazaras in their homes,” spokesman Abu Bakar Siddiq says.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation in the US, Britain, Australia and Pakistan but its operatives move about unhindered and attack with impunity in Balochistan.

They publish threats in newspapers and have distributed pamphlets in Hazara Town warning they intend to kill all Hazaras. They even advertised a mobile number people could text if they saw Hazaras in the street in Quetta, so Lashkar-e-Jhangvi operatives could attack them.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has taken the extraordinary step of investigating unbidden violence against Pakistan’s Shiites, in particular Hazaras.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry says authorities had been cowed into inaction by terrorist threats.

”Action should have been taken against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi a long time ago,” he says.

The Pakistan director for Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan, says government inaction suggested it was indifferent to, or even supported, the extremist violence.

”The Pakistani authorities are just indifferent bystanders to slaughter at best, or callously supportive of those perpetrating these massacres at worst,” he says. ”This is a crisis that neither Pakistanis nor the world can afford to ignore any more.”


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Asylum seekers on hunger strike on Manus

March 28, 2013

Tent accommodation at Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

Asylum seekers at Manus Island detention centre are on hunger strike, authorities say.

A NUMBER of asylum seekers at the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre have spent the past week on hunger strike, authorities say.

Eight asylum seekers went on a five-day hunger strike in protest at charges of fighting and assault levelled at them by PNG police, following a series of alleged incidents at the temporary facility on Lombrum Naval base.

One person is still believed to be still refusing to eat, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) said on Thursday.

“There are indications that one remaining person is still on voluntary starvation, but they may have taken food and water recently although this has not been confirmed,” a spokesperson said.

The hunger strikers are part of a group of 18 detainees PNG police have charged with fighting and assault following a series of disputes at the centre.

DIAC says only 16 detainees were charged.

Manus provincial police commander Alex Ndrassal said police entered the site on March 21 to explain to the detainees why they had been charged.

“We went to explain to them the arrest situation and PNG law, and how PNG police do their work,” Insp Ndrassal told AAP.

Inspector Ndrassal said the hunger strike ended after police spoke to the group.

Police charged the group last month but the matter has yet to come before the courts.

Asylum seekers on Nauru have recently staged hunger strike and lip-stitching protests to protest at Australia’s offshore processing policy.

Refugee activists earlier this month said there were water shortages at the base.

Added: HazaraAsylumSeekers can confirm that all the asylum-seekers on hunger strike are ethnic Hazaras. An asylum seekers who wishes not to be named has told Team HAS that, 10 Hazara asylum-seekers have been on hunger strike from 21st of March to protest the baseless charges leveled against them. He further said that on March 21, an Iranian asylum seeker attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself in his room, but was hindered by fellow asylum seekers and admitted to hospital. Authorities, in an attempt to conceal the ‘suicide attempt’ which would otherwise have sparked another debate and posed questions on Government’s failed policy, charged Hazara asylum-seekers to sweep that incident under the carpet and save their faces. G4S guards have also conceded that many of the ‘charged’ asylum seekers were not even present in the compound at the time of quarrel.

(Unconfirmed) Names of Sixteen Asylum Seekers charged by PNG Police, ten of whom had staged hunger strike:

  • Javeed Raza
  • Mehmod Ali
  • Ewaz Ali
  • Irfan Ali
  • Nazeer Hussain
  • Syed Ali Raza
  • Habbib Ullah
  • Nazir
  • Mohammad Tabish
  • Ali Raza
  • Mohammad Ali
  • Haji Dawood
  • Mohammad Raza
  • Gholam Mohammad
  • Sardar Mohammad
  • Mohammad Hanif


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Filed under Detention Centers, HAS Exclusive, PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues

Government ponders expansion of bridging visas

March 28, 2013

The Federal Government is considering moving hundreds of asylum seekers out of community detention and onto bridging visas.

The West Australian newspaper has reported the Government is considering expanding the program to include families in a bid to save money and reduce the pressure on the detention network.

Several boats, together carrying more than 380 asylum seekers, have arrived since the weekend.

According to the Immigration Department, about 2,000 asylum seekers are currently being detained on Christmas Island.

The centre is able to hold just over 2,000 people, including its contingency capacity.

Asylum seekers on bridging visas move into the community and receive the lowest welfare benefit available and are not eligible to work.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor says before expanding the program he must consider its wider impact.

“We do have some people on bridging visas already. The question being put to me as to whether in fact we’d have families on bridging visas – that’s something for the Government to consider,” he said.

“We will not make any decisions if we believe it’ll encourage people smugglers to lure people onto unseaworthy vessels on perilous journeys.”

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has told Sky News he is concerned about the management of the whole community release system.

“That’s a decision the Government seems to be considering in panic, that’s what drove the consideration for community release in the first place,” he said.

Meanwhile, an asylum seeker boat carrying 147 people has been intercepted in waters south-west of Darwin.

The Government says the asylum seekers will be taken to a detention centre at Darwin where they will undergo health and security checks.

And Sri Lanka’s navy has seized a fishing trawler carrying at least 97 people on their way to Australia.



Filed under Asylum Policy, Detention Centers

Another asylum seeker boat brings total to almost 600 people

March 28, 2013

A BOAT carrying 147 asylum-seekers was intercepted south-west of Darwin on Wednesday, bringing the total for the week to almost 600 and placing further strain on Australia’s detention facilities.

Authorities have either stopped or rescued seven boats since Sunday, including one which capsized on Monday killing two people and injuring seven others.

More than 3000 people have been stopped trying to get to Australia this year alone, more than double the number in the first three months of last year.

It came as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship revealed another 20 people had been transferred to the processing centre on Nauru.

The group of mostly Pakistani and Afghan men left Christmas Island on Tuesday by aircraft and arrived in Nauru about 8am local time on Wednesday.

Customs and Border Protection confirmed it would review the circumstances surrounding the response to Monday’s tragedy in which two people, including a small child, died.

Chief executive officer Michael Pezzullo said such an inquiry was routine after any significant maritime incident.

“In light of the tragic loss of two lives during the incident, it is prudent and entirely appropriate that an assessment of the operation is conducted to determine whether correct operational procedures and processes were followed and to ascertain any potential areas for improvement in those procedures,” Mr Pezzullo said.

As part of the assessment process, Customs and Border Protection will construct a chronology of the incident and ensure all relevant documents and any recordings or imagery are captured.



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