Monthly Archives: April 2013

Asylum seeker boat intercepted

April 30, 2013

(Media Release)

HMAS Parramatta, operating under the coordination of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia), rendered assistance to a suspected irregular entry vessel that sought assistance north of Christmas Island on Sunday.
Initial indications suggest there were 67 passengers and three crew on board.

Border Protection Command has transferred the passengers to Australian Government authorities on Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial security, health and identity checks and their reasons for travel will be established.

People arriving by boat without a visa after 13 August 2012 run the risk of transfer to a regional processing country.



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Close down Manus, says ALP senator Cameron

April 30, 2013


File Photo: Doung Cameron

Labor Senator Doung Cameron says the federal government’s Manus Island asylum seeker processing centre is no place for women and children and should be closed down.

As pressure on the government ramps up after a scathing assessment by former staff, the NSW MP said reopening the Papua New Guinea facility was a mistake and called for more onshore processing.

Senator Cameron said women and children should not live in conditions where they lacked proper medical care and accommodation and where mosquitoes and malaria were rife.

“The women and children should be removed from there immediately. And I am calling on the minister to do that as of today,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.


“This is not treating asylum seekers as human beings.”

Former staff at the detention centre have painted a bleak picture of the Manus facility, telling the ABC TV Four Corners program of an appalling lack of medical support for women and children living in tropical conditions.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor defended conditions on the island, denying it lacked proper medical supplies and was unfit for children.

Mr O’Connor acknowledged the centre didn’t provide “five-star” accommodation, but he said he was confident it was adequately supplied with medical equipment.

“I’ve said all along that they’re adequate,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr O’Connor said the main problem for people on Manus was the sense that they would be detained indefinitely.

“That’s why I’ve been engaging with the PNG government to make sure that they are processed as quickly as can be done so that they know their fate,” he said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison, who visited the Manus Island facility in March, agreed the centre was not suitable for children.

“The coalition had always questioned the government’s decision to put families on Manus Island,” he said.

“We’ve always said that the better place to do that would be on Nauru.”

But he said the medical facilities he inspected were up to standard.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government must urgently bring asylum seeker families back to Australia and stop processing people offshore.

The Australian Council for International Development called for the immediate removal of children from Manus.

Source: AAP

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Filed under PNG/Pacific Solution, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Severely sick kids sent to Manus: report

April 30, 2013

Australia's asylum seeker centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island

Australia’s asylum seeker centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island

CHILDREN with severe illnesses have been sent to Australia’s offshore asylum seeker processing centre on Manus Island, even though it lacks proper medical supplies.

John Valentine, a former doctor at the Papua New Guinea facility, has told ABC’s Four Corners program there was an “appalling lack of medical supplies” at the centre during his time working there.

Dr Valentine said the facility was not an appropriate place to house children.

There are now 30 children in the Manus Island centre.

“The thing about children from a medical point of view is that they get sick very quickly,” he told the program, which aired on Monday.

“We had very little in the way of paediatric equipment and facilities there.”

He said there was a 24-hour delay between calling for a medical evacuation by air and the plane arriving.

“Getting the sick person out is just too long for kids.”

Dr Valentine said among the first asylum seekers to be transferred to the centre were a severely anaphylactic young boy and a nine-year-old girl with anaemia with a reported history of blood transfusions.

“The little boy with anaphylaxis … was sent over with a mass in his neck requiring investigation,” he said.

“I mean, how can we investigate a mass in a neck? We don’t even have x-rays let alone anything else.”

The program also described cases of people harming themselves at the Manus centre, including a man who poured petrol over himself in an effort to commit suicide.

It also said the number of people harming themselves at Australia’s processing centre on Nauru increased after former immigration minister Chris Bowen visited.

Mr Bowen explained to detainees that Nauru, which didn’t have any laws for processing refugees, was still developing its system.

Meanwhile, the Four Corners report showed there were still differences between Australia and Nauru on the Australian government’s “no advantage” policy.

The policy requires asylum seekers coming by boat to wait the same period to be resettled as other refugees coming through regular channels.

“The no advantage policy is an Australian government policy,” Nauru’s former foreign minister Kieren Keke told the ABC.

“I dont recall any discussions specifically about that approach with us, as a government.”


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Two asylum boats intercepted

April 29, 2013

Media releases from the office of home affairs’ minister have confirmed the interception of two vessels carrying 75 and 72 asylum seekers respectively west-north-west of Darwin on Friday and north of Christmas Island on Saturday.

Releases can be read here:

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Doctor says Manus Island a ‘disaster’ for children

April 29, 2013

Unidentified asylum seeker on Manus IslandPHOTO: Morale is low among 200 men who have spent five months in tents. (Four Corners)

A doctor who worked at the immigration centre on Manus Island says he informed authorities that the facility was inappropriate for children well before they were sent there, but nothing was done about it.

ABC1’s Four Corners program has gained significant access to the centre and spoken with a number of staff, among them Dr John Vallentine, who worked at the centre between November and December last year.

He says the facility is “too remote” and under-resourced to safely house children and that the health clinic has “very little in the way of paediatric equipment”.

Despite this, 30 children are now housed on the island, which is a few hundred kilometres north of the Papua New Guinea mainland, near the equator.

Dr Vallentine says he told his employer, International Health and Medical Services (IHMS), of his concerns five months ago.

For the first time in my life I felt ashamed to be an Australian… it’s just a remote, silly place to be putting people.

Dr John Vallentine

“The whole time I was there it was just a disaster, medically,” he told Four Corners.

“Almost from the day I arrived it was obvious to me that it was not a clinic that would work in its current state.

“From early on I was sending lists both through my health services manager up there and directly to the medical staff of IHMS in Sydney saying, ‘look, we desperately need this stuff’.

“Stuff being oxygen, antibiotics, bladder catheters, suckers, tracheotomy equipment, anaesthetic agents, sedatives, morphine, ketamine, and these things didn’t arrive.

“For the first time in my life I felt ashamed to be an Australian, up there seeing this squandering of money.

“It’s just a remote, silly place to be putting people.”

IHMS is paid $2.5 million a month by the Australian Government to provide health services to the offshore centres in Nauru and Manus Island.

It is responsible for health checks on asylum seekers selected by the Department of Immigration for offshore transfer.

Dr Vallentine says his concerns “turned to alarm” when the children, including an anaphylactic boy and a girl with a history of needing blood transfusions, arrived at the centre.

“The thing about children from a medical point of view is that they get sick very quickly,” he said.

Australia has to… weigh up the consequences of what it’s doing.

Major Paul Moulds

“You don’t have nearly the same luxury of time to sort things out and the problem, or one of the problems at Manus Island is its remoteness.

“Worst of all, this established 24-hour delay, between calling for a medical evacuation by air and the plane arriving and getting the sick person out, is just too long for kids.

“So I was worried about children being there at all I must say.”

The Salvation Army has a $75 million contract with the Australian Government to work with asylum seekers on Manus Island.

But Major Paul Moulds was so disturbed by what he had seen that he decided to speak to Four Corners.

“I’ve had some hard days and I’ve seen some pretty difficult things in that role, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder job as what this called for as we work with asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru,” he said.

“I can say quite honestly the people I work with from government and from the host countries, I don’t think they want to injure asylum seekers.

“But Australia has to… weigh up the consequences of what it’s doing.

“It has to think deeply, and I hope there is a really reasoned and logical and intelligent debate about this policy.”

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs has not been to either Manus Island or Nauru. She says the solicitor-general told her she has no jurisdiction outside Australia.

“This is a curious phenomenon,” Ms Trigg told Four Corners.

“What is absolutely crystal clear as a matter of international law is that Australia is responsible for the lives and wellbeing and legal rights of these people, and as human rights law is at the core of my job, I would have thought it appropriate that I be invited to go there and to make some kind of visit to the people concerned.”

Another former Manus employee describes the camp as “stressful”, with only a fence between the children and families and nearly 200 single men.

Morale among the men, who have spent five months in tents, is low and centre workers describe frequent suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.

While some processing has begun in Nauru, there is currently no proposal as to how and when asylum seekers’ claims might be assessed on Manus Island.

Workers with first-hand experience of both Nauru and Manus Island have told Four Corners that much of the distress among those detained in the centres is the unfairness of the system.

Although almost 700 asylum seekers have been transferred offshore, thousands of others who arrived over the same period were sent to Australia and have been released with bridging visas.


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Detention Centers, PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues

Fleeing Pakistan Violence, Hazaras Brave Uncertain Journey

April 27, 2013

Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times

Ali, a Hazara originally from Quetta, in western Pakistan, now living in Karachi. The 26-year-old said he was quitting his accounting studies to leave for Australia.

KARACHI, Pakistan — Stranded in a dingy hotel in the heart of this port city, waiting for the smuggler’s call, Hussain felt at once trapped and poised for freedom.

Behind lay his hometown, Quetta, the city in western Pakistan that has become a killing ground for Sunni sectarian death squads that hunt Shiites. So far this year they have killed almost 200 people, and Hussain was nearly one of them. Lifting a pants leg, he displayed an eight-inch scar from a bomb blast in January.

But great danger also lay ahead. Hussain was headed for Australia, where thousands of his fellow ethnic Hazaras, Shiites who have borne the brunt of the recent violence, have sought refuge. The illegal journey — across Southeast Asia by air, ground and sea at the mercy of unscrupulous human traffickers — would be long and perilous. Several hundred Hazaras had died on that route in recent years, most when their rickety boats foundered at sea.

For Hussain, it was worth the risk.

“I’d rather die in the boat than in a bomb blast,” he said, twisting a cup of coffee nervously in a restaurant near the hotel. “At least this way, I get to choose.”

Hussain, 25, is part of a growing exodus of young Hazara men who are fleeing Pakistan as it has become apparent that their government and military cannot, or will not, protect them from violent extremists.

In Quetta, where most Pakistani Hazaras live, the attacks are led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a fanatical group that views Shiites as heretics. With their distinctive Central Asian features and historical links to anti-Taliban forces, the Hazaras make an appealing target. After a decade of intermittent attacks, bloodshed is suddenly surging: two Lashkar suicide bombings this year killed almost 200 people, up from 125 in 2012.

That toll set off a long-overdue security crackdown, but the attacks resumed last Tuesday with a suicide attack on a Hazara politician that killed six people. To young men like Hussain, whose family runs a clothes shop, the next bomb is only a matter of time.

“We can live without the basics of life — gas, electricity and so on,” said Hussain, who asked to be identified by just part of his name in the hope of avoiding arrest on his journey. “But we can’t live with the fear.”

Hussain’s older brother was shot and killed by militants in 2008. His own brush with death came on Jan. 10, after a powerful blast ripped through a snooker hall near his house. As Hussain rushed to help, he was caught in a second explosion that killed rescue workers, police officers and journalists. He blacked out.

“I don’t remember the sound of the blast,” he said. “Just the feeling, like a sort of sonic pulse.” He awoke in the hospital with 36 stitches in one leg and learned that three of his closest friends were among the 84 dead.

It was becoming clear that the Lashkar killers could operate with impunity. “They take their time. They select. Then they shoot,” he said.

The final straw came on March 7, when the military summoned Hussain and other Hazara traders to a meeting in Haideri bazaar, a popular market. As soldiers stood guard outside, an army colonel offered the merchants some sobering advice: they needed to buy handguns, he said.

Some people reacted angrily, and began berating the military officers, demanding better protection, Hussain recalled. But he went home to make a phone call. Two years earlier, his younger brother had left for Australia, where he had gotten a job in a fast food restaurant. Now Hussain needed to hear his voice.

“Just come,” the brother said.

Three days later, Hussain had agreed to pay $6,000 to a trafficker and was on a flight to Karachi, on the first leg of a journey across Asia that would be as emotionally wrenching as it was sudden.

In the plane, he found himself comforting a weeping 16-year-old boy, also Hazara, who said he had been forced to leave by his parents. In the shabby Karachi hotel, he shared a room with “Master,” a 41-year-old shoe trader from Quetta, also bound for Australia.

With thinning hair and a quick grin, Master, who would give only his nickname, had an avuncular manner. But when conversation turned to the three bewildered daughters, aged 7, 9 and 13, he had left behind in Quetta a day earlier, the smile faded and his eyes welled up.

“I will bring them to Australia,” he said in a cracking voice. “This country is no longer for us Hazaras.”

As with many other Hazaras aiming for Australia — from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan — their starting point was Karachi. From there, the journey is arduous and uncertain. Refugees first fly to Thailand or Malaysia, often via Sri Lanka, after their agents bribeimmigration officers and Pakistani border officials. The trek continues by land and sea across Malaysia and Indonesia, in cars and trains, dodging police patrols, overnighting at flophouses.

Some migrants are arrested by police officers and border guards along the way and deported back to Pakistan; others are extorted or abandoned by the traffickers, or robbed on the roadside. In many cases, they end up paying thousands of dollars more — in bribes to crooked border officers or supplemental fees to smugglers — so they can keep pressing toward Australia.

The last leg is the most treacherous. In Indonesia, migrants buy tickets aboard small, overcrowded boats bound for Christmas Island, a small Australian territory about 240 miles off the Indonesian coast, where they apply for political asylum. There, they join other boat people — Sri Lankans, Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis.

Safe arrival is by no means guaranteed. Between late 2001 and last June, 964 asylum seekers and boat crew members from various countries are known to have lost their lives on this passage, said Sandi Logan, a spokesman for the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Habibullah, a 22-year-old student from Quetta, was nearly one of them. Last October, he joined 34 Hazara men on a boat bound for Christmas Island. Within 24 hours, the boat had sunk in a storm. Mr. Habibullah, who has only one name, says he was the sole survivor, picked up by an Indonesian fishing boat after three days clinging to floating debris.

In a harrowing written account of those events sent by e-mail, and in a phone interview from Indonesia, Mr. Habibullah described a traumatic ordeal.

He spoke of long hours in the water, whipped by waves and fearing sharks, desperately calling out to distant passing ships. But most anguishing, he said, was the sight of fellow passengers slipping under the waves, some calling out to their wives or parents.

Mr. Habibullah, suffering extreme thirst and sharp kidney pain, sustained himself by thinking of his home in Quetta. “I remembered my past, surrounded by my parents,” he wrote. “And I realized they were with me.”

It is impossible to confirm Mr. Habibullah’s account independently. But Hazara community leaders in Quetta confirmed that several men accompanying Mr. Habibullah had died, and some of their photographs have been published on blogs.

Mr. Habibullah sounded despondent. Conditions at the government detention center in Indonesia were grim, he said, and he was struggling to gain an asylum hearing from the United Nations refugee agency. Nine months after leaving home, and having spent $15,000 on bribes, transportation and smuggler’s fees, he had not reached Australia.

Still, he understood why other Hazaras wanted to make the journey. “It’s worth it,” he said.

The Australian government has tried to deter the boat people. Last year, it began transferring asylum seekers to detention centers on two remote Pacific islands while their cases are heard. Human rights groups and United Nations officials have condemned conditions at the camps, and Australian news media have reported several suicide attempts there in recent months.Responding to the criticism, Australian officials say they have increased their humanitarian refugee quota to 20,000 this year, a 40 percent increase. At the same time, in countries like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, the Australian government has started an advertising campaign seeking to persuade potential refugees to stay at home.

Yet still they keep coming. In the first weeks of April, according to official figures, the Australian Navy intercepted 10 boats carrying 760 people, most bound for Christmas Island. The majority of cases from Afghanistan and Pakistan were ethnic Hazaras, whose numbers have grown to about 25,000 people in Australia, officials say.

Before leaving Karachi, Hussain and Master took a stroll along the beach, dipping their toes in the Arabian Sea and meandering among the young families on the sand.

Hussain stressed that if not for the extremist threat, he would not be leaving Pakistan. Ten months earlier he had married his sweetheart, a local teacher, whom he had left behind. His family made a good living from its clothes business. And patriotism ran in the family — his grandfather had served in Pakistan’s army.

“This could be the last time I see Pakistan,” he said, staring out at the waves.

His younger brother had warned him of a daunting journey ahead — “Expect it to be hell,” were his words — and so he was relying on the religious items around his neck: a small leather pouch containing two folded Koranic inscriptions, from his father and his wife, and a black pendant inscribed with the words “Y’Allah Madaat” — “Oh God, help me.”

Over the following weeks, he sent several messages: from Bangkok, where he was staying in a cramped room with 16 other refugees (“Waiting, waiting, and so on,” he wrote), then, in late March, from Indonesia.

Master had been arrested in a car headed for a port in Malaysia, Hussain said. But he had managed to escape, and had arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, where he would seek a boat to Australia.

This month, a boat carrying about 90 people, most of them Hazaras, sunk en route to Australia. Hussain was depressed, but undeterred. “I’m looking forward,” he wrote. Then he added: “May God help me.”


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Detention centre visit cancelled in ‘retaliaton’

April 27, 2013

images (1)

Refugee advocates have claimed visits to the Broadmeadow detention centre have been cancelled on the same day of their latest protest.

The Refugee Action Collective has planned a rally outside the Camp Road centre on Sunday, where two asylum seekers attempted suicide this week.

RAC spokeswoman Daniella Olea said the cancelled visits and excursions were cancelled in “retaliation” against the protest.

“I am disgusted and very upset. This is clearly a punitive decision which is used to deter protest at the centre and used to divide refugee supporters,” she said.

“Refugees have told us how important rallies are for them. Rallies bring people together to expose the lies and shine a spot light at these mental illness factories. The timing of protest doesn’t interfere with excursion or visits.”

The protest will go ahead, she said.

A Department of Immigration spokeswoman said the suspension of visits was done purely for operational purposes.

“The department categorically rejects any suggestion that the Refugee Action Collective protest was the reason for the suspension for visits.

The department fully supports SERCO’s [the company that runs the centre] decision, including the rare occasions it may choose to suspend visit,” she said.

A 17-year-old boy from Iraq and Hazara man in his 20s tried to take their own lives in separate incidents on Wednesday at the centre. Earlier this month, 27 detainees, mainly from Sri Lanka, held a hunger strike against their detention.

Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor told Fairfax Media earlier this month that the asylum seeker’s behaviour would not change the process.

He said the government “will never make any policy changes based around any particular withdrawal of eating or other forms of conduct”.

Asylum seeker and refugee advocates have held rallies across the country since Anzac Day. The group has demanded an end to to mandatory detention and offshore processing.

The protest is scheduled for 1pm on Sunday.


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