August 12, 2013
Protester hold placards against Australia’s new immigration policy, 27th July, Melbourne. –Photo by Tanver, used under a Creative Commons (CC) license.
The trend in refugee resettlement in Australia a few years ago was something like this: if you were a Hazara, you had somewhere in the order of 90% chance of being accepted as a refugee and resettled in Australia. Fast forward five years, and the situation is completely different. If you are refugee, and you come to Australia on a boat, you have virtually no chance of being resettled in Australia, albeit you are a member of one of the most persecuted communities in the world.
At first thought, this dramatic change in Australia’s immigration policy would indicate that the situation in countries from where the Hazaras were fleeing would have improved significantly and so their claims of being persecuted in their homelands no longer remained true. But a few Google searches on the internet and a quick visit to the social networking websites show rather the opposite. Where on one hand the persecution of this minority group in Afghanistan continues unabated, on the other hand, in Pakistan the severity of attacks on Hazaras has increased year by year.
So, if the situation of these would-be-asylum-seekers has not changed, what has actually changed that has resulted in such a sharp decline in the acceptance rate of Hazaras as refugees?
Faced with an intense pressure from the opposition on the issue of boat arrivals, the Labour government had to resort to one of the harshest measures it has taken in recent years to stop the boats coming to our shores. Last month’s deal with PNG followed by a MoU with Nauru will see anyone coming to Australia on a boat sent to the Pacific nations for processing and eventual resettlement, should their refugee claims be accepted.
If there was any ambiguity about the intention of our government, the timing of this latest immigration policy announcement should clarify that. With an election looming, the best our Prime Minister could do to assure Australia he is tough enough of a man to stop the boats and protect our borders from “illegals” was to introduce the latest of our government’s punitive policies. This may as well win him some votes, but at the cost of hundreds of lives; lives that will not be lost in the sea between Indonesia and Christmas Island, but in the streets of Quetta and Kabul, lives that would no longer be able to escape death and would remain trapped in the ghettos that Hazara localities in those countries have become.
Had the Rudd government been serious about tackling the issue of people smuggling and boat arrivals, it would have taken immediate steps to take the issue back to the source countries. Despite repeated calls by the Australian Hazara communities to engage in strong dialogue with the Pakistani government on the issue of Hazara genocide, a working mechanism involving the UN which could ensure that the lives of Hazaras in Pakistan are safeguarded by the Pakistani government, and an accessible means for Hazaras to register with the UNHCR in Quetta, what we have seen is a rather reluctant approach in the form of a telephonic conversation between our Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterpart, a Federal Minster replying that Australia can only do as much as it has done while our forces are still based in neighboring Afghanistan, and the repulsive act of working with Pakistani agencies on ethnic profiling at airports around Pakistan so that the exodus of any Hazara from Pakistan is made as difficult as possible.
It is evident that in the wake of unchanging miserable situation for Hazaras, all that has changed is the attitude of Labour and our once rational Prime Minister. The man who had abolished TPVs and closed down detention centres has now adopted the policies of his predecessor. The care and compassion that he had urged Australians to show towards people fleeing war and persecution are what he is now refusing to display himself. In the name of war against people smuggling, he has now made the vulnerable asylum seekers pay the ultimate price.
The PNG and Nauru “punishment” camps could potentially stop Hazaras from getting on boats. The new policy might as well help Labour win the forthcoming election. But the serious repercussions of this policy on the lives of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed every asylum – seeker and refugee from any corner of the world, will result in an image of our nation being portrayed in the civilized world as that of an unjust, inhumane and cruel nation, not to mention the unavoidably negative image of the Labour party in the minds of thousands of Hazaras in Australia.