August 17, 2013
Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution is working to stop Iranians, the previously largest single group of asylum seekers, from getting on boats to Australia.
As dozens of Iranian individuals or families either return to their home country or bunker down in Indonesia hoping for official resettlement through United Nations processes, one people smuggler has told customers he is trying to find passengers for ”one last boat”.
Anecdotally, the policy has also affected the more desperate Afghan asylum seekers.
”I have a neighbour who is an Afghan smuggler, and people call him from Afghanistan and he tells them: ‘Don’t come [to Indonesia], just wait, one month, two months, because now the policy is against Iranian and Afghan people’,” says Hoshang, an asylum seeker in Cisarua, West Java.
The hardline policies across the Australian political landscape are the only topic of conversation in the hilltop Indonesian town where thousands have lived while waiting for a boat. They know an election is in the offing, but do not have a clear idea of the political details, and some are still waiting in hope that change of government means Australia will abandon its resolve to send people to Papua New Guinea.
According to the government, the ambivalence is reflected in the numbers: Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said on Friday only 300 had arrived by boat in the past week, down from 1000 after the policy was announced.
But Denis Nihill, the Indonesian country head of the International Organisation for Migration, said he had ”not seen any increase at all in applications of people returning to their home countries”. The usual figure was 40 to 60 a month, which remained steady, he said.
Iranian asylum seeker Binai Abdu Samad, who will soon take his family and leave, said: ”With Iranians, the first pressure and people go home. I think going back to Iran is the best way.”
Hoshang has wasted $US20,000 trying to get his family to Australia, but has almost decided to return. He has already sent back his wife and two children, aged five and nine. ”They called me from the airport and they are safe,” he said.
But he left Iran after fighting with policemen and being jailed, and still fears what might happen if he returns. So he is waiting a little longer to make sure Australia will not alter course.
People smugglers are making it harder, pressuring people to continue by boat and failing to return their money. Hoshang said he was waiting for a refund. ”He tells me ‘Next week, next week,’ and I am still waiting.”