Monthly Archives: January 2014

Asylum seekers on Manus Island should be made aware of legal rights, court told

January 31, 2014

Papua New Guinea supreme court also gives PNG opposition leader green light to challenge asylum agreement with Australia.

Manus Island detention centre in November 2012
Detainees on Manus Island are not believed to have had any access to legal assistance. Photograph: AAP Image

Asylum seekers detained on Manus Island should be made aware of their right to appeal against their detention under Papua New Guinea law, the country’s supreme court has said.

It also said that the constitutionality of the agreement between PNG and Australia is open to legal challenge.

PNG’s supreme court on Wednesday ruled that opposition leader Belden Namah should be allowed to challenge the agreement between Australia and PNG to transfer all irregular maritime arrivals to the Manus Island detention centre.

Namah wants PNG to stop receiving the asylum seekers.

“The applicant is a citizen who has, in our assessment, a genuine concern for the subject matter of the application,” read the court’s ruling in a preliminary hearing on Namah’s case.

“The argument therefore appears to be that the detention of the transferees is inherently unconstitutional, and that it was beyond the constitutional power of the national government to enter into an arrangement with another country that created that situation.”

The ruling from a bench of five highly regarded judges on PNG’s highest court dismissed arguments that Namah could not launch a challenge because he was not directly affected by the controversial scheme. Their decision means that Namah’s case can continue, but Guardian Australia understands it is not expected to restart for at least three months.

In its ruling the court also noted that while detainees can also appeal to the courts, none have done so. The application process had been made deliberately easy, they said, and queried whether detainees knew this legal avenue was available to them.

Guardian Australia understands it is unlikely detainees inside the centre have had any legal assistance with their claims for asylum – something that was previously available to them through Australian law firms but which ended when the Australian government said that arrivals would no longer be settled in Australia.

It is believed this lack of legal aid is part of the reason why no appeals or claims have been heard.

The court suggested that rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International may be allowed to mount cases on behalf of detainees.

Human Rights Watch Australian director Elaine Pearson said one barrier to bringing a successful court challenge was that lawyers did not have access to detainees.

“Only a few lawyers have been able to talk to detainees by phone,” said Pearson.

“That’s one of the practical problems that needs to be dealt with. Lawyers need to have access to Manus Island.”

The court took to task two PNG authorities which it said should be taking a greater interest in human rights issues at the processing centre.

“It is perhaps surprising that two constitutional offices that should feel a great responsibility for protection and enforcement of human rights in Papua New Guinea – the public solicitor and the ombudsman commission – appear to have shown no interest in these issues,” it said.

“The public solicitor is a law officer … and therefore entitled under section 19(3)(c) to make an application … but frankly it is difficult to remember the last time that the public solicitor exercised this important power. The ombudsman commission … has an impressive record of making special references on a wide range of constitutional issues under section 19(1). But the issues raised in the present case, as significant as they are, do not appear to have attracted the commission’s attention.”

In August, PNG’s foreign minister pledged to introduce legislation to stop constitutional challenges against the asylum-seeker processing centre.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/30/asylum-seekers-manus-island-in-the-dark-right-to-appeal

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Of justice for the Hazaras

January 30, 2014

Photo Credit: Eltaf Hussain (Hazaragi Wallpapers)

Photo Credit: Eltaf Hussain (Hazaragi Wallpapers)

THE emergency measures taken after the nationwide protest at the latest round of killing of pilgrims in Mastung district offer little assurance that a way to end the ordeal of the Hazara community has been found.

While no breakthrough in efforts to nab the culprits has been reported public attention has been focused on the air-lifting of hundreds of pilgrims from Dalbandin to Quetta. Welcome though this operation has been it has also thrown up a few disquieting issues.

First, the volume of the annual pilgrim traffic to and from Iran has proved to be quite large, and the need to manage it has obviously been ignored year after year. Secondly, the administration has conceded its inability to guarantee security of road travel. And, thirdly, there is a danger that a large piece of territory may pass into the hands of militants determined to harass the governments of Pakistan and Iran both. Neither air flights nor a ferry service along the Makran coast will alter the situation.

This means that the anti-Hazara militias will have greater freedom and capacity to continue their murderous attacks on the beleaguered community. What does this portend for the Hazaras (the Shia majority among them, as the small number of Sunni Hazaras are not targeted) and Balochistan?

Since no firm attempt has been made to subdue them, the gangs engaged in massacring the Hazaras consider themselves free to persist in their criminal acts and the threat to the Hazaras remains unabated. The seriousness of this threat can be gauged only if one takes stock of Hazara losses since 2003, when their mass killing began. Forty-seven people were killed in July 2003 in an attack on an imambargah; 36 perished in March 2004 when the Ashura procession was attacked; 63 were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Youm-i-Quds procession in 2010; 26 pilgrims were killed in Mastung in September 2011 and more than 100 were killed in the Alamdar Road massacre last year.

In addition many prominent Hazara professionals and community leaders have fallen victim to targeted killing over the past 15 years. It is necessary to realise that this huge loss of life has been caused not only to the Hazara community but to the whole of Balochistan and Pakistan.

Further, the entire community has been condemned to live all the time in fear of liquidation. They have lost the right to earn their livelihood in peace and thir freedom of movement has been severely curtailed. A large umber of the Hazara have chosen to seek security of life in foreign lands, and many have perished at sea in their attempts to reach Australia in unsafe vessels.

The government has never assessed the economic cost to the country caused by the loss of skilled human resources, the closure of Hazara-owned mines and other enterprises, the stoppage of remittances the expatriate Hazaras’ used to send from the Gulf states and other foreign countries, and the decline in the Hazaras’ share in services. No society can afford the loss of human resources at this scale, and certainly not Balochistan.

The Hazaras have also contributed a great deal to Balochistan’s social development. As they are not a land-owning community they have had no part in sustaining the tribal-feudal tradition. They have distinguished themselves in services and in the field of education. They have established schools and colleges where the young ones of all communities are accommodated.

Their boys and girls are still keen to go to the universities and institutions of higher learning but transporters have been frightened into declining to serve them. Their women are far more liberated than others and have acted as agents of female emancipation.

The Balochistan government, and to a greater extent the federal authorities, have a duty not only to protect Hazara Shias and guarantee them their rights and freedoms, but also to revive their hope of a decent future as full citizens of Pakistan. Their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness stem not only from the state’s failure to protect their lives and property, they emanate from their belief that the state agencies protect their tormentors.

The case of Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq Rahman destroyed the Hazaras’ faith not only in the administration’s competence but also in its sincerity in offering them a fair deal. The two prominent members of a banned outfit were tried in 2007 for attacks on Shias and found guilty. Both confessed to their crimes and bragged about killing more Shias. Kurd was awarded the death sentence and Shafiq life imprisonment. The way they escaped from a high security prison in January 2008 still rankles in each Hazara heart. The community is convinced that the convicts were enabled to escape by the authorities themselves.

Even otherwise, the Hazaras question the failure of the all-powerful Frontier Crops to go for the trigger-happy members of the Punjab-based militia that enjoys the freedom of not only Mastung and Khuzdar but also of Quetta. They make no attempt to conceal themselves or hide their weapons in the street or the mosque. They have already destroyed Balochistan’s reputation as a peaceful multicultural society.

There is every reason to apprehend that the Hazaras will not be the only victims of their violence. The governments of Pakistan, Punjab and Balochistan must together realise the consequences of tolerating the anti-Hazara forces. Hitherto the world has tended to treat the Hazara killings as manifestations of sectarian intolerance. If the killings are not ended the verdict against Pakistan could be much harsher.

I.A Rehman for Dawn.Com

Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1083724/of-justice-for-the-hazaras

 

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No bridging visa, no job: Life’s tough for Greater Dandenong asylum seekers and the welfare groups that support them

January 30, 2014

Arrivals left to languish

“Dani” is an Afghan asylum seeker who says life has been very difficult in Australia. Source:News Limited

LOCAL welfare groups are struggling to cope with demand­ created by asylum-seekers unable to work because­ of the non-renewal of bridging visas for ‘illegal maritime arrivals’.

They say the inability to work leaves many asylum-seekers unable to support themselves, and dependent on charities to survive.

Under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, IMAs receive 89 per cent of the Newstart allowance, or roughly $200 a week.

But Asylum-Seeker Resource Centre director of empowerment Gavin Ackerly said it was simply not enough.

He said thousands of asylum-seekers in Greater Dandenong no longer had visas and were living below the poverty line.

“It’s almost impossible for these people to exist unless they go into share houses with up to 10 people,” said Mr Ackerly.

“Without that visa and the right to work, it’s putting a lot of people under stress”

Mr Ackerly said the non- renewal of visas meant people­ were losing jobs, and that put more pressure on welfare agencies.

“These are some of the most committed, dedicated people you are going to come by,” he said.

“They don’t want to be on welfare, they want to get out there and earn their own money.

“We have people with great skills being denied the right to work and welfare agencies have to pick up the slack.”

Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison has given no time frame as to when bridging visas for IMAs might be renewed­, and Mr Ackerly said the process of being approved for a refugee visa could take years.

“People who’ve come over by boat will be the last people to get their refugee visas processed” said Mr Ackerly.

“They’re trying to punish people for being here.

“We just have to find a more productive and humane way of dealing with these people.

“If these people are working, then they’re paying taxes and they’re helping local business.”

ASRC Employment Services manager Rosa Misitano said the Government’s announcement that Australia must look overseas for ‘seasonal skilled workers’ in sectors such as aged care and hospitality was ‘ridiculous’.

“We’ve got the people here available, sometimes skilled and ready,” Ms Misitano said.

“Why would we not use that pool?

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

*Afghanistan or Australia, life is tough

Two-and-a-half years ago, 26-year-old Dani made the difficult choice to leave his family and embark on a journey into the unknown.

He left his mother, sister and brother in war-torn Afghanistan to come to Australia to try to make a better life, in the hope of one day sending for them.

After travelling from Kabul to Indonesia, Dani, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this story, travelled by boat to Australia, along with 73 other people, seeking asylum.

It was a difficult journey.

Normally, it takes four to five days, but the boat got lost and they ended up running out of food.

Eventually, after 11 days, with their boat going down, they called Australia for help.

Dani was sent to Christmas Island for processing for one month, then transferred to the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia for four months.

When he was eventually issued with a bridging visa and touched down in Melbourne, the feeling was bittersweet.

“I didn’t know how to communicate and it was a terrible experience, but it was also beautiful,” Dani said.

The adjustment period was challenging, but Dani found a share-house and has since taken some English language courses.

Dani’s dedication to integration is evident, and after only ten weeks of classes, he has mastered the art of telling a joke perfectly.

In Afghanistan, he was an electrician and welder by trade, with six years’ experience, but, in Australia, no one will employ him, even though he is permitted to work under his current visa status.

He feels there is a stigma attached to the words “boat person”.

“People think we are criminals, so I’ve learned not to say I came by boat, because people look at me in another way,” Dani said.

“The dream was to start a new life, but that was just a dream and all I do is think about the future.

“Here I have too many problems.

“I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky and sometimes I think that if I had died, it would have been better.”

*About the Bridging Visas for illegal maritime arrivals:

•After November 2011, eligible IMAs were released from immigration detention on a Bridging Visa E, a temporary visa allowing holders to remain in the community while their immigration status remained unresolved.

•IMAs who arrived before August 13, 2012 had the option of being granted a bridging visa with permission to work, and released into the community while claims for refugee status were assessed. However, their visas are now lapsing and not being renewed.

•Those who arrived after that date were not granted permission to work, even if they had bridging visas, and anyone who arrived after July 19 last year was transferred to offshore processing countries such as Papua New Guinea or Nauru for assessment.

•There are 20,000 people living in Australian communities on bridging visas.

*Main asylum-seeker groups in Greater Dandenong:

•Hazara

•Tamils

•Iranians

*How you can help

•The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre welcomes community support. See asrc.org.au for more information.

•Settlement of Greater Dandenong:

•In 2012/13, 2240 recently-arrived migrants settled in Greater Dandenong – the highest number of settlers in any Victorian municipality. A third of these people (numbering 720) were humanitarian immigrants, largely from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Pakistan.

Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/leader/south-east/no-bridging-visa-no-job-lifes-tough-for-greater-dandenong-asylum-seekers-and-the-welfare-groups-that-support-them/story-fngnvmhm-1226811375045

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Pakistan: A State of Siege

January 28, 2014

Shaheed Irfan Ali Khudi - A Hazara peace activist slayed on Jan 10, 2013 in a suicide blast in Quetta

Shaheed Irfan Ali Khudi – A Hazara peace activist slayed on Jan 10, 2013 in a suicide blast in Quetta. PHOTO: Muzafar Ali

Madeeha Syed speaks to Human Rights Watch’s Ali Dayan Hasan about the state and predicament of the Hazara in Quetta

A year after the deadly attacks on the Hazara community, what is the situation now?

While Shias across Pakistan have faced increasingly vicious attacks, a disproportionate number of attacks – the latest being the Jan 21st attack on a pilgrim’s bus in Mastung – have targeted the small Hazara community. Of Shias killed across Pakistan in 2012, around a quarter of the victims were Quetta Hazaras. In 2013, a little under half of those killed were from that community. It is true that major attacks on the scale of January and February 2013 have not taken place since last year. But major attacks are only one aspect of the crisis faced by the community. Survivors and family members of victims describe the effects of a campaign of killings that has targeted all segments of the Hazara community. Hazaras live a ghetto existence, fearful of going about the normal business of life. Hazara religious pilgrims, students, shopkeepers, vegetable sellers, doctors and other professionals have been targeted leading to not just widespread fear but increasingly restricted movement leading to a ghettoisation of community members, increasing economic hardship and curtailed access to education.

How many are opting to flee their homes? And where are they going?

Large numbers are fleeing Pakistan in panic and seeking asylum abroad, even risking their lives in the process. Unable to cope with death stalking them at every turn, many hundreds have fled Quetta for Karachi or other parts of Pakistan. Yet further hundreds have fled Pakistan altogether. Those fleeing usually seek to go to Australia risking a dangerous sea journey that has repeatedly proved fatal. In April 2013, some 60 Hazaras died when their boat sunk in Indonesian waters enroute Australia. These journeys are not only dangerous and expensive, they are often deadly. Almost 1,000 people have died on the crossing from Indonesia to Australia over the last decade — scores of them Hazaras from Pakistan.

What is the Hazara’s relationship with the Frontier Corps (FC) in Balochistan?

It is a complicated relationship. It would be correct to say that the Frontier Corps has done a better job in recent months of preventing the sorts of large-scale attacks we saw a year ago. And whatever reservations the Hazara community may have about elements of the FC, the fact remains that it is the lead security agency in Quetta.

But the problem remains that the FC is unable to disarm the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) or meaningfully protect the Hazara from attacks. Further, it does not help that a small but significant body of opinion with Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies, paramilitary forces and intelligence agencies appear to view the Hazara with suspicion — as “agents of Iran” and “untrustworthy.”

And while there is no formal policy of tolerance for extremist elements such as the LJ at work, it is not possible to say yet with any certainty that there are no extremist sympathisers within lead law enforcement and security agencies. The matter is further complicated because elements from the security apparatus can be complicit in extremist attacks or turn a blind eye to them not out of conviction but also out of fear. But the fact remains that the FC has to be part of the solution.

There is a new government in Balochistan and more and more people have been raising their voice in support of the Hazara community. Has that brought about any changes at all?

While large-scale attacks have not taken place since the new Balochistan government took over in June, it remains the case that Pakistan’s federal government, the criminal justice system and the country’s military and its intelligence agencies continue to play the role of unconcerned bystanders as Shia across the country are slaughtered. Pakistan’s political leaders, law enforcement agencies, administrative authorities, judiciary and military need to prevent these attacks as they would any other threat to the state. Pakistan’s authorities must act urgently to end the state of deadly siege the Hazara and other Shia communities find themselves living under.

The Hazara are being killed not because they are party to a conflict but because they are helpless targets of murderous rage. They are killed not in combat but as they go about their daily lives — praying, selling and buying vegetables, boarding busses to go to work or college or travelling.

Of course, the Balochistan government has to be given both the benefit of the doubt and a fair chance. CM Malik is a highly respected figure. But equally, it remains true, as was the case with the previous provincial government, that the Balochistan provincial administration is only nominally responsible for security. That authority rests with the military through the FC and the intelligence agencies operating in the province. Unless these actors adopt a zero tolerance policy towards the LJ and other extremist actors, there is little the provincial government can do.

Has anyone to date ever been held accountable for any incidence of violence against the Hazara community?

There are sporadic crackdowns. Extremists are arrested. Some are even convicted. But often they are released without trial or conviction after a crisis has passed. Several high profile convicts have escaped from police and military custody in inexplicable circumstances in the past. The courts, even when they have been proactive in other areas such as disappearances, have been hesitant to provide protection to the Hazara or hold their attackers accountable. There has been no meaningful accountability.

Why are the Hazaras targeted specifically and so often?

Hazaras are generally unarmed, easily identifiable and utterly helpless — in short, easy to kill. Of course, they are being targeted as part of a broader exercise in targeting all Pakistani Shias but it is equally true that the Hazara suffer from double jeopardy — being ethnically distinct in addition to being Shia.

Source: http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/27/pakistan-state-siege

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Indonesia sentences Pakistani people smuggler to seven years

January 28, 2013

JAKARTA: An Indonesian court sentenced a Pakistani man to seven years in jail Tuesday for attempting to smuggle asylum seekers to Australia on a rickety boat that sank, killing about 90 people.

Javaid Mahmood, 55, was the second person found guilty by the East Jakarta District Court in connection with the overloaded fishing boat that capsized on its way to Christmas Island in June 2012. Another 110 people on the boat were rescued.

A panel of three judges concluded that Mahmood, also known as Billu, organised the voyage and conspired with an international syndicate that smuggled asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.

The judges said each asylum seeker paid the people smugglers up to $5,150 to get to Australia.

Last year, the court sentenced an Afghan man, Dawood Amiri, 20, to six years in prison and ordered him to pay $79,000. His interrogation led police to arrest Billu almost a year after the deadly voyage.

Prosecutors, who had requested a 10-year sentence, said the defendant knew that the boat was overloaded but did nothing to stop it from sailing. He was among the survivors and had organised three previous trips to Australia.

The judges also ordered him to pay $66,200 or face an additional six months in prison.

The number of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere reaching Australia in Indonesian fishing boats has soared in recent years, and tougher steps taken by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to block them have become an irritant in relations with Indonesia.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has criticised an Australia policy of turning back boats with asylum seekers as a violation of Indonesian sovereignty.

Tuesday’s verdict came days after Australia apologised for incidents in which its border patrol boats entered Indonesian waters without permission, which had prompted Indonesia to demand that Australia suspend such operations against boats carrying asylum seekers.

Indonesia has long been a transit point for people fleeing war-ravaged countries on their way to Australia.

 Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1083316/indonesia-sentences-pakistani-people-smuggler-to-seven-years

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Stop the boats asylum seeker policy ‘morally corrupt and indefensible’, former Navy officer says

January 27, 2014

John Ingram poses next to his official portrait.

John Ingram poses next to his official portrait.

A retired senior Royal Australian Navy (RAN) officer has hit out at the Federal Government’s stop the boats policy as “morally corrupt and totally indefensible”.

“For our leaders to proclaim personal and religious ethics amazes me,” said retired RAN Captain John Ingram, recognised in yesterday’s Australia Day honours with an Order of Australia Medal for his decades of work supporting the Indo-Chinese community, and also for leading a naval rescue of 99 asylum seekers from a sinking boat.

“The concept of turning boats back is absolutely abhorrent. I have an issue with the hardline approach, the fact that RAN sailors are (now) being used for political purposes,” he said.

“And turning back boats on the open sea and pursuing towards Indonesia, which happened just recently, is not the naval way of doing things.”

Mr Ingram says growing anger and confusion within Navy ranks was further exacerbated last week byreports of alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers aboard a boat intercepted by the Navy.

Asylum seekers claimed they were beaten and burned while their vessel was being towed back to Indonesia – allegations rejected by the Navy.

“I think there has been a lot of unjust criticism of the way the Navy has handled it,” Mr Ingram said, speaking from his home in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

“I realise the Chief of Navy issued a statement last week denying malfeasance.

“It’s my experience from 30 years in the Navy that sailors are extremely sympathetic towards all people in peril on the sea.”

 

In 1981, while serving on the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, Mr Ingram led a dramatic rescue operation to recover 99 Vietnamese people from a fishing boat sinking in the South China Sea.

Those rescued became known as the Melbourne Group 99, or MG99.

The MG99 were put ashore in Singapore and sent to an overcrowded refugee transit camp.

Without waiting for approval from Canberra, Mr Ingram led Navy teams into the camp to ensure the welfare of the MG99.

There, he says, thousands of people were living under plastic sheeting and were forced to boil grass for food.

Seventy-five of the group ultimately resettled in Australia, mainly in Sydney’s Cabramatta area, and today second and third generations of the MG99 group maintain close links with Mr Ingram.

The MG99 story was featured in a 2012 Foreign Correspondent Online Special Report.

Parallels with Indonesia Confrontation

Last week there were warnings that Australia risks sea-going clashes with Indonesia and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.

Mr Ingram sees parallels with the 1962-66 “Confrontation”, when Australia and other Commonwealth nations fought an undeclared, largely secretive, low-level war against Indonesia, while simultaneously engaging in a high-level diplomatic slanging match.

Australia’s secret war with Indonesia


In 1965/66, Australian troops fought a covert war inside Indonesian territory. Listen to their stories on Radio National.

 

“I actually served in the Navy’s flagship during the Confrontation with Indonesia. I know what is involved,” he said.

“I don’t like the idea of creating mischief with our nearest neighbour, and a lot has been done since the East Timor situation and Confrontation with Indonesia back in the mid 1960s to restore harmony and goodwill between nations … the last thing we need to do is jeopardise that relationship.

“It is claimed that the boats have stopped, and that may well be the case … but that’s not the way to solve that particular problem.

“That problem is a diplomatic one and not one that should be corrected by force alone.”

Mr Ingram has four decades of experience in assisting refugees.

As the Vietnam War ended, he was a Navy logistics specialist on exchange in the United States, where he helped establish a refugee transit camp for 25,000 Indo-Chinese.

(Stopping the boats) is not the way to solve that particular problem. That problem is a diplomatic one, and not one that should be corrected by force alone.

John Ingram

 

After returning to Navy headquarters in Canberra, Mr Ingram led a community group that successfully provided transit housing for newly arrived refugees.

“I’m not saying the system hasn’t been abused by some, it has, but in the main most are genuine in their desire to avoid persecution, political, economic, whatever, in their homeland,” he said.

“My immediate concern are the several thousand people currently incarcerated on Nauru, Manus and at Christmas Island, that they are brought to Australia as quickly as possible for orderly processing to occur and this plan that I’ve developed would enable that to occur.”

A solution in regional Australia?

Mr Ingram proposes the establishment of a “contract of obligations”, where asylum seekers are given the opportunity to live and work in regional Australia for five years, receive English lessons and skills training, and only be permitted to relocate to a major city on completion of the five-year period, when permanent residency would be awarded.

These folk, as with earlier generations of displaced persons, have made massive contributions to our country.

John Ingram

 

He argues that Australia has a strong track record in responding humanely to international upheavals and cites the success of previous Coalition and Labor leaders.

“Prime minister (Malcolm) Fraser displayed that leadership when he opened the doors to boat folk from South-East Asian refugee camps,” he said.

“Prime minister (Bob) Hawke’s eyes welled with tears after Tiananmen Square when he proudly announced those Chinese students in Australia who feared persecution would be granted residency status.

“These folk, as with earlier generations of displaced persons, have made massive contributions to our country.

“We’ve painted ourselves into a corner. We need an honourable way out. And we need a way out very soon.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-27/coalition-boats-policy-morally-indefensible-says-john-ingram/5220886

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No exit [for the Hazaras]

January 26, 2014

He fled Pakistan for the relative safety of Australia, only to meet tragedy in a detention camp

Nobody can understand the pain and plight of 22-year-old Mohammad Naqi*. A father murdered in Quetta. A forced migration from his hometown. A brother stabbed in a “detention camp” in Nauru. And a sister who died in his lap due to lack of treatment in the very same camp. Ironically, this family of three had fled from Quetta to protect their lives.

“I am safe today, but I have paid a huge price for this security. I am a broken man. I want to piece myself together again, but sometimes, I just don’t have the strength to do so.”

Even for a community used to migration, the concept of ‘Home’ is fast-becoming alien to many Hazaras. “How can you talk about home, when we weren’t safe in the sanctity of our houses?” Naqi bellowed.

Naqi’s plight started in 2012, when his father was shot dead in a Quetta bazaar — for the crime of being a Hazara. They buried him alongside their mother, who had passed away in in 2001.

Orphaned and insecure, the three siblings decided to make the move to Australia, a country that had been accepting Hazara asylum-seekers. “Some family friends had migrated to Australia in 2008. We contacted the same human trafficker who had handled their case,” narrated Naqi. “After an initial deposit was made, we set off for Malaysia from Karachi, on a legitimate tourist visa. From Malaysia, we were supposed to go to Indonesia, from where we were to be smuggled to Australia by boat.”

It all went accirding to plan, till the siblings arrived in Australia — in February 2013.

“Even before we reached Australian shores, we were apprehended by Australian authorities. We were then sent to Manus Island, to live in tents in what they call detention centres. That’s where I first lost my elder brother, and then my younger sister,” Naqi recalled.

These detention centres are the cornerstone of the Australian immigration mechanism for asylum-seekers, explained Perth-based Jasmina Brankovich of the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN). “The John Howard-led government instituted what is known as the ‘Pacific Solution’ — offshore detention centres were created in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, from where asylum-seekers were to be brought to Australia,” she explained.

In theory, all asylum-seekers from across the globe are to be vetted at these detention centres — the reality is less sanitised.

“My brother, Saqib*, spoke some English,” narrated Naqi. “We met some African refugees at the same camp. They lived a few rows away from us. They didn’t speak English, so it was difficult to communicate with them. For some reason – I think it was over food – they quarrelled with Saqib one day. From then on, our relations became strained with them. One night, there was another altercation. The African men stabbed my brother, and there was nowhere I could go for medical help. He died the same night.”

Naqi also lost his sister, Salma*, because there was no medical treatment available for her when she contracted fever. “By the time, a doctor was sent to visit, it was too late. Apparently my sister was suffering from pneumonia. Salma breathed her last in my arms. In my arms.”

Alleging “inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers” at the hands of Australian authorities, Brankovich argued that the phenomenon needs to be placed in the context of racism in Australia. “Refugees are used as a political football,” she said. “There is a staggering amount of ignorance in Australia on the issue of asylum-seekers. The Hazara people are suffering genocide, they have a right to seek asylum in Australia.”

On the Australian government’s part, all efforts were focussed on resettling permanent Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. Sources working on migration from Pakistan, including Hazara migration, claimed that the Australian government was initially working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle registered Afghan Hazara refugees in Pakistan to Australia.

Per the initial arrangement, being discussed in February 2013, about 3,000 families could have been accommodated, but after carrying out a headcount, it turned out that there were only a little over 700 registered Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. This opened up space and the opportunity for Pakistani Hazaras to be accommodated in the asylum programme. The arrangement currently depends on the various agencies short-listing families deemed most vulnerable.

“In truth, Australia is still a colonial nation, a country that has not set itself free from its colonial past,” claimed Brankovich. “Boats are a very small percentage of transportation means adopted by asylum-seekers. But there is manipulation of Australian public opinion against asylum-seekers. When you visit detention centres, you’ll find people who are irreparably damaged. There is absolute mental health disintegration there.”

The pathetic situation at detention centres came to the fore in Australia as a team of 15 doctors, who headed to Christmas Island to inspect medical facilities and the immigration process, issued a 92-page “letter of concern” that detailed gross medical malpractices by Australian authorities in their attempt to divert asylum-seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The doctors, employed by the International Health and Management Services (IHMS), alleged that their employers and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have made decisions that “do not appear to have always been made in the best interest of patients.”

Among other explosive revelations, the doctors claimed: “Patients are now being cleared on the basis of an ineffective assessment and without pathology. Inappropriate reallocation of doctors away from clinics to perform more of these clinically unreliable assessments results in the deterioration of chronic disease and delayed treatment of acute illness.”

In related developments, on Jan 19, 2014, the Nauru government not only sacked but also deported its only magistrate, Peter Law. It also cancelled the visa of its chief justice, Geoffrey Eames, when he tried to intervene and prevent Law’s deportation. Both men were Australian citizens. It is widely believed that the action was prompted due to the pair’s treatment of asylum-seekers.

While Australia struggles with accommodating asylum-seekers in a societal fabric that is tainted by racism, families like Naqi’s have broken down. The Hazara people in Pakistan are a people defined by migration: Naqi’s grandparents migrated from Afghanistan and he himself had to move to Australia. He is now living in Sydney as a permanent Australian resident, but in search of safety, Naqi lost the very family he tried to save. “Some nights I wake up with dreams of holding my brother’s body. And some nights I wake holding my sister,” he says in a low voice. The nightmare, it seems, simply never ends.

Names changed to protect privacy

The author can be reached at @ASYusuf

Source: http://www.dawn.com/news/1082696

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Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy, Hazara Persecution, Torturing and Health Issues