Monthly Archives: May 2014

Nauru: Human Rights Commission will accept leaked report as evidence

May 30, 2014

Gillian Triggs
Gillian Triggs says evidence in the report supports many of the AHRC’s observations. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

A report documenting the desperate state of medical provision inside Australia’s detention centres on Nauru will be considered as evidence in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) inquiry into children in detention as agencies expressed serious concern about the report’s findings.

The president of the AHRC, Gillian Triggs, said the report, written by five independent medical experts and obtained by Guardian Australia, articulated issues of “profound concern” to the inquiry being conducted by a statutory, independent body.

The AHRC is not permitted to visit Australia’s offshore detention centres as it does not have extraterritorial jurisdiction, but Triggs said the conditions for child asylum seekers offshore and the Australian government’s decision to send children offshore were part of the inquiry’s remit.

The report notes that children are inadequately health screened and up to 50% of those on Nauru could carry latent TB. It also raises serious concerns that there is no clear child protection framework on Nauru and that most pregnant women are suffering from depression.

Triggs said the evidence in the report supported many of the inquiry’s observations of children in mainland detention and on Christmas Island, adding: “If it is true that they are being given very cursory health checks then that again underpins the point that they are being held in a way that cannot be justified on any rational or practical basis.”

Triggs said that a letter of concern documenting widespread medical failings in detention, written last November and signed by 15 doctors operating on Christmas Island, would also be used as evidence in the inquiry.

The chief executive of Unicef Australia, Norman Gillespie, said that the report confirmed their “fears for children and pregnant mothers in Australian immigration detention”.

“That children are being exposed to chronic diseases, delayed treatment and deteriorating health while under the protection of Australia is of great concern,” Unicef Australia’s advocacy manager, Amy Lamoin, said.

“The government must uphold its responsibilities and ensure that children in its care have access to adequate standards of health care and protection. We request the minister respond in full to this report and explain how he will ensure the safety and health of the children under his care.’

Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have been refused entry to the Nauru detention centre in recent months, and the centre’s operations are cloaked in secrecy.

The coordinator of Amnesty Australia’s refugee campaign, Graeme McGregor, said one of the organisation’s principal concerns with the report was that it would not have been made public if it had not been leaked.

“That is extremely concerning and it really shows the secrecy surrounding this policy of offshore detention and what it may, in fact, be hiding. Amnesty were denied access to visit Nauru earlier this year and this is exactly the kind of thing we were afraid of – that the denial of access was being used to hide this kind of abuse.”

McGregor continued: “In particular we’re concerned about the lack of processes and protections for children who have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse, and really we feel that failures of this policy mean that if a child was being sexually or physically abused that nothing effective can be done about it, and also that the public in general would never find out about it.”

On Friday the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the report, which was filed about two months ago, was “of some time ago”. Morrison told reporters that the commander of operation sovereign borders, Lt-General Angus Campbell – who is not medically qualified –had given him a “very positive report” of the centre’s conditions subsequently.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the leaked report revealed a “mental health crisis in the Nauru detention camp”.

“This damning report reveals the truth of Nauru and the horrific conditions that children are being exposed to on a daily basis,” she said. 

“There is no paediatric life support on the island and conditions in the Nauru hospital are clearly unacceptable.”

Hanson-Young also provided photographs of conditions inside the maternity ward, which she said “show the true condition” in Nauru’s only hospital.

Sophie Peer, of the child asylum seeker advocacy group ChilOut, said the report revealed that the lives of child asylum seekers were being put at risk on Nauru.

“There is no excuse for endangering the life, health and safety of a child,” Peer said.

“We have never believed the line that offshore detention is about saving lives. Now we have even more detailed evidence that Australia is in fact putting lives at risk.

“Without question it is time to put aside political point-scoring and get people out of this dangerous detention facility. If this is not done, the result could be fatal.”

ChilOut said it believes there are more than 40 unaccompanied children detained on Nauru, and expressed particular concern, as does the report, about their safety and welfare.

Ian Wishart, the chief executive of Plan international, a global child rights NGO, said: “These children are being denied their most basic rights to healthcare and protection on our government’s watch. Australia has a legal and moral obligation to do better.

“Children are the innocents in all this. The majority do not make the decision to come to Australia, and nor are they able to stand up for the rights every single parent in Australia would expect for their own children.”



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Nauru detention: serious health risks to children revealed in confidential report

May 30, 2014

Guardian Australia exclusive:

• Barely any screening for communicable diseases in children; none for under-11s

• Children at ‘significant risk’ of sexual abuse

• Most pregnant detainees are depressed

Nauru children
Children play at the detention centre on Nauru.

The desperate state of healthcare offered to asylum-seeker families, children, babies and pregnant women inside the Nauru detention centre can be revealed for the first time in a comprehensive report produced by five independent clinical experts, obtained exclusively by Guardian Australia.

Observations in the report include:

  • Children in the Nauru detention centre are not adequately screened for disease, resulting in the likelihood that many are carrying undiagnosed blood-borne diseases and up to 50% are carrying latent tuberculosis.
  • There are no paediatricians employed in the centre and no paediatric life support available on Nauru.
  • There is no clear child protection framework for children inside the centre and it is unclear what child protection checks are undertaken for Nauruan staff. This, according to the report, “places them [asylum seeker children] at significant risk of sexual abuse”.
  • Most pregnant women are suffering from depression.
  • Immunisation courses are not properly completed, increasing the risk of transferable diseases.
  • In a 14-month period between 2012 and 2013 there were 102 cases of self-harm, including 28 hanging attempts by 18 detainees; 6.3% of the asylum seekers are on psychotropic medication to treat mental illness.
  • There were 53 medical transfers to Australia in 2012-13 at a cost of $85,000 a transfer, with the report also noting that these can take up to 36 hours to complete.
  • Living conditions are “crowded, hot and humid” with children having “limited meaningful play”. Children play with stones.
  • There is an apparent significant risk of groundwater
  • contamination as a result of poor waste management at the detention centre.
  • There are nine 17-year-old unaccompanied minors on Nauru

The 56-page document, completed by the “physical and mental health subcommittee of the joint advisory committee for Nauru regional processing arrangements”, was not meant for public consumption and was filed for review to the Nauruan and Australian governments, who chair the committee.

It outlines substantial problems created by the Coalition government’s rapid offshore transfer policy for asylum seekers and was written after a site visit to Nauru in February.

The report raises many issues similar to those expressed in a letter of concern signed by 15 doctors working in detention centres on Christmas Island and reported by Guardian Australia in December. The report notes asylum seekers on Nauru often queue for an hour a day to receive medical attention and records criticisms of the prescription process and IT systems that are similar to those described in the 92-page Christmas Island letter.

The revelations follow serious allegations of assault against child asylum seekers in detention on Nauru in March, which raised further questions about the safety of children in detention.

It is understood that many of the 18 recommendations noted by the independent experts are being considered by both the Nauruan and Australian governments but the health subcommittee does not have the power to enforce any of its findings.

A spokeswoman for the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, did not respond to detailed questions but said: “The majority of recommendations in the report were supported by the department and either already acted upon or subject to planned service improvements as identified by the department’s chief medical officer.”

She did not say which of the recommendations had been acted upon.

Guardian Australia understands that many of the issues articulated in the report are still current.

Nauru children
The report raises concerns similar to those expressed by doctors in detention centres on Christmas Island

‘Critical issues’ with child health screening and medical facilities

Children under 15 do not receive blood testing, meaning there is “extremely limited screening for communicable/infectious diseases”, according to the report. Children are not examined for mental health issues and IHMS, the private medical provider running services in detention, does not employ a paediatrician.

The report notes a “lack of resuscitation support for infants and children” in the centre and states that there is just one paediatrician employed by the island’s only hospital who speaks “minimal English”.

There are now 190 children detained on Nauru.

The subcommittee was also unable to verify if children detained on Nauru had been health screened at all before being transferred from Christmas Island under the government’s “rapid transfer” policy, which mandates that asylum seekers are moved offshore within 48 hours.

“The lack of child health screening in detention healthcare (overall and prior to transfer) means the physical and mental health conditions are likely to emerge in children after transfer and communicable diseases and developmental issues will remain unaddressed,” the report says.

It adds that pathology results for any child who is screened on Christmas Island are unlikely to be available owing to the rapid transfer. Medical groups have strongly criticised this policy.

The report notes there are no facilities for blood culture tests in the centre. “The evacuation time [from Nauru to Australia] is reported to be 24-36 hours, during which time an acutely unwell neonate [newly born baby] would deteriorate and could die,” the report states.

The report notes it is likely that up to 50% of children have latent tuberculosis, with “their risk of developing active tuberculosis increased by young age, recent migration and social stressors, all of which are relevant in this setting”. The report adds that multiple children will have undiagnosed blood-borne diseases, including hepatitis B.

It states that the care available for children and newborns is “not in keeping with an Australian community standard of care” and there is no memorandum of understanding in place with the hospital on Nauru despite the fact it provides a backup to the detention centre in complex cases.

“To put this in perspective, a hospital with around 20-30 staff on a given day that serves a local population of 10,000 people is providing backup to a health centre with around 50 staff on a given day, that provides healthcare to 2,300 people,” the report says. “It is unclear how use of the RoN [Republic of Nauru] hospital by people from the RPC [regional processing centre] affects local access to care, including to resources such as neonatal care, dental care and optometry services.”

Guardian Australia submitted detailed questions to IHMS, the private medical service provider. It declined to comment.

Child protection ‘a major concern’

There is no clear child protection framework in the detention centre. While service provider have “measures” to perform police checks or working-with-children checks on Australian staff, there are inconsistent requirements across agencies. It is also unclear what checks local staff, who constitute 53% of the workforce, have to undergo.

“Detention, and the grouping of large numbers of children and adults in crowded living conditions, without normal social structures or activities, risks exposing children to physical and mental violence and places them at significant risk of sexual abuse,” the report notes, adding that unaccompanied minors are at particular risk.

The report says that not a single stakeholder in the centre has a clear child protection policy in place and adds that unaccompanied minors, whose legal guardian duties are enacted by a Save the Children manager, have no clear framework to report abuse:

“… it was unclear how decision-making or acting in ‘best interests’ might occur [for unaccompanied minors], what legal training had been undertaken, which legal framework would be utilised, whether the organisation had protocols for management and decision making in sentinel events (eg sexual assault) and whether there was a plan for long-term review and support of children’s rights.”

The report says service providers reported they would refer child protection issues to the Nauru police, but adds: “Nauru does not have a child protection framework.”

Guardian Australia contacted all service providers in the detention centre asking them to detail their policies on child protection. A spokesman for Transfield Services, which manages the detention centres on Nauru, said all Australian staff were assessed by the Australian federal police before working in the centre. The spokesman said all Nauruan staff “undergo a Nauru police check and sign a statutory declaration. They are also trained in the DIBP’s [Department for Immigration and Border Protection] protocols for handling children.” The spokesman said other checks were carried out but declined to go into detail as to what they were.

A spokesman for Save the Children, which provides childcare in the centre, said child protection was the organisation’s “No 1 priority” on Nauru.

“A child safeguarding protocol and code of conduct prepared by Save the Children is in place on Nauru and is mandatory for all service providers. It outlines child-safe recruitment techniques, including working with children checks and/or police checks for positions involving contact with children, and detailed incident reporting and investigation procedures.”

The spokesman said all Save the Children staff – Australian and Nauruan – were required to undergo police or working-with-children checks and sign a code of conduct.

With regards to the subcommittee’s observations on Save the Children’s guardianship role for unaccompanied minors, a spokesman said: “The manager and all staff responsible for the supervision of unaccompanied minors are trained on the decision-making processes and reporting procedures. All incidents are reported in accordance with the regional processing centre guidelines and the protocol.”

Seven cases of self-harm a month and high rates of depression among pregnant women

The report describes a “critical issue” of self-harm with an average of seven episodes each month between September 2012 and November 2013.

In that period there were 28 attempted hangings and five attempts at throat slitting. Twelve asylum seekers made more than one attempt at self-harm; 10 of those people had escalating histories.

Sixty adults were taking psychotropic medications at the time of the visit, constituting 6.3% of the detention centre’s population.

Thirty-three of the 53 medical transfers off Nauru in 2012-13 were related to mental health issues.

There were 15 pregnant women on Nauru at the time of the visit, with five who had been transferred to Australia for care. Mental health staff reported that most pregnant women had “consistently high” scores of depression on the Edinburgh postnatal depression scale. “Most women scored around 24, where the cut point for detecting significant depression is 10,” the report says.

The report also notes there is no facility for advanced paediatric life support at the Nauru hospital and only one incubator. Women experiencing pregnancy complications are transferred to Australia to give birth.

The spokeswoman for Morrison was asked whether the government would abandon its rapid-transfer policy. She said: “There have been no recent rapid transfers to offshore processing centres. There has not been a successful people smuggling venture to Australia in almost six months.

“Transfers are occurring in a planned schedule that take into account any matters that have to be addressed.

“There has been no change to government policy since the commencement of Operation Sovereign Borders and the government is not considering any changes to these policies.”

The report contains many more details about the state of healthcare provisions inside the detention centre. Guardian Australia has published it in full here. The report was not given to Guardian Australia by any members of the subcommittee and none wished to comment.


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Manus Island asylum seekers ambushed by machete-wielding locals

May 29, 2014

Asylum seekers on one of their first excursions out of the Manus Island detention centre since February’s violence had an altercation with locals, who refugee advocates say brandished machetes.

It was alleged that 10 locals ambushed a group of asylum seekers with machetes as they returned from an excursion.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the incident, saying it was a ”low-level non-physical exchange between a transferee and a local resident during the course of an excursion yesterday”.

”Overdramatising these events is not helpful in the ongoing management of the Manus Island centre,” the spokesman said.

Tensions remain four months after asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed, while locally employed security guards are being kept out of the centre for fear of retaliation.

Human rights advocates say the latest incident is further proof of the danger asylum seekers face if resettled in PNG.

Following the release this week of the government’s report into the violence, Mr Barati’s father, Torabi, wrote to the Australian people asking for his son’s murderers to be brought to justice, saying: ”He was innocent and did not commit any crime and his murderers are free.”


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Hazards of identity | Uncertainty and death stalk the Hazaras wherever they go

May 27. 2014

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

“Every morning, as I step out of my house to drop my children to school, the fear of being recognised haunts me,” says 32-year-old Fatima, a member of the Hazara community living in Karachi’s Hussain Hazara Goth. “If I hear footsteps approaching behind me, I think to myself, ‘Could this be my killer?’ I quickly step into a rickshaw but as it drives out of the alley, with the sound of any motorcycle passing by, I prepare myself to be shot from any direction,” says the round-faced brunette, her hazel eyes visibly filled with grief.

Most of the 13,000 Hazaras living in Karachi moved to the city to avoid persecution and the deadly attacks they were facing, both for their sectarian beliefs and ethnic identity, in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan. “I could not stay in Quetta any longer,” whispers Batool Ali, shuddering with fear, as she recalls the June 2012 bomb attack on her university bus. “I was sitting in the back of the bus, so I survived with injuries,” she pauses, wiping away her tears. “Every time I passed by that road, the entire incident replayed in my head; blood and bodies were everywhere; my friends were lying on the road, dead. It was too much to bear.” Traumatised, she stopped going to the university, and decided to enroll herself in Karachi instead.

She discovered that life in Karachi was not as easy as she had expected. Security remained elusive and there was no official or non-government support for Hazaras under death threats. Then there were logistical issues.

Karachi does not have many hostels to accommodate those who come here for studies and don’t have families here. Ali now lives with some distant relatives. But, as she says, at least she does not have to cross the same road everyday where she lost many of her friends. That, for her, is a huge emotional relief. ‘It is better than dying a ruthless death,’ is how many Hazaras justify their migration from Quetta to Karachi.

For many of them, however, it changes nothing. Even in Karachi, they live under constant fear. Many Hazaras living in Hussain Hazara Goth complain that their places of worship come under continuous attacks and their women are stalked and threatened when they are seen on the streets. “I hardly step out of my house, except when necessary. When I do, it is almost as if I am paralysed by fear,” says Fatima, born and raised in Karachi. Her fear is mirrored by the whole Hazara community, including the rickshaw driver who takes her around. “He is the sole bread earner of his family. What if he gets killed because of me?” she asks.

For more than 600,000 Hazaras across Pakistan, such fears are part of their daily routine. The uncertainty of making it back home alive each day, or questioning whether they will see their children, siblings, parents and relatives alive, has become the basic reality of their lives.

The first terrorist attack on the Hazaras took place in Quetta in the late 1990s but the deadliest so far have been two blasts in the first two months of 2013, which together led to the death of around 200 people, including women and children. According to Nazish Brohi, an independent researcher and human rights activist based in Karachi, “Hazaras are targeted in waves of religious extremism sweeping the country. They are killed because they are Shia.” She points out that ethnic identity could be an additional reason for Hazaras becoming targets of sectarian killers. “Because of their ethnicity, they are physically distinct,” she says. “But, it is important to see that Shias are being targeted across the country — in Karachi, in Hangu, in Gilgit, in Kohat and in Quetta.”

Many Hazara women living in Quetta and Karachi have an additional problem to take care of: They live by themselves, without their male relatives around. Men of their families – husbands, brothers and fathers – have left to seek refuge elsewhere in the world, mostly Australia.

Fatima lives with her two sisters and her brother’s wife. “We help each other run our households and raise our children, who are all under the age of 10.”

It is hard to live without any men in the house, says Fatima, but it was harder when they were around because of the constant anxiety and terror the women would go through each time the men stepped out of the house. “My sisters and I would take turns to call them, incessantly, just to be sure that they were alive,” she says, her voice lowering to a level barely audible. She pauses, just long enough to gather herself, “It became part of our routine — the fear, the insecurity. It was making us all miserable.”

Frustrated by this intolerable uncertainty, the men left Pakistan in search of safety and security. “At least, I know my husband and my brother are alive. I guess this is enough for now,” says Fatima. Given the travails of travel, men do not take women along with them as they embark on their arduous journey across borders and through seas. This leaves behind the women to not just run their households but also to take care of their ageing in-laws and parents. “We can’t just pack up everything and leave. It is not easy. Our parents, relatives and in-laws all depend on us,” she tells the Herald.

Other shores, other worries

“Around 100,000 Hazaras have migrated from Balochistan to either other parts of Pakistan or outside the country,” says Tahir Hussain Khan, the vice president of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “The most common destinations for migrating Hazaras are Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand,” he says. Most of them are now living in Australia. Indonesia, too, is housing about 20,000 Hazaras (living there mostly illegally), he adds.

Fatima’s brother Abdullah is one of the fortunate ones who made it to Australia and was granted political asylum. Her husband, however, is still struggling in Saudi Arabia, like numerous others from his community who wake up each morning with the hope of living a normal life again.

For almost all of them, the only means to escape from Pakistan are illegal. The journey starts in Karachi and, passing through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, is expected to end in Australia. The last leg of the journey usually comprises a highly risky boat ride across open seas between Indonesia and Australia. The travellers, generally, have little else to cling to, other than the hope to make it to the Australian shore; a possibility becoming increasingly uncertain, recently. “At least 1,000 Hazaras have drowned or have gone missing while trying to exit Pakistan,” says Khan.

Habibullah Manavi, a 22-year-old student from Quetta, could have been one of those. After walking through jungles, being mugged in Indonesia and held in a detention centre there for months, he finally got on to a boat to Australia, along with 34 other Hazara asylum seekers. Within 24 hours after the boat started its journey towards Christmas Island – a small Australian territory about 240 miles off the Indonesian coast – it capsized in a storm. He drifted on the sea for three days. While many of his co-travellers died in front of him, Manavi was rescued by Indonesian fishermen who brought him back to Indonesia, where authorities put him in a detention centre. After going through this ordeal for close to two years, only recently did he manage to get a valid visa for Australia.

On a prayer and a wing

“I did not want to go abroad but I had to do,” Manavi tells the Herald, on the phone from Indonesia. “The situation in Quetta was deteriorating by the day. I could lose my life in a random killing. I did not want to die like that,” he says.

In early July 2012, he travelled from Pakistan to Malaysia on a valid visa and met a human smuggler there, who arranged for his journey to Indonesia by boat. “I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two days and paid 2,000 US dollars to get to Indonesia. After many weeks, he ended up not in Jakarta but in an Indonesian prison. “I remained in lock-up for a month with many others like me. Each of us was made to pay bribes at different rates for our release.”

Once out of prison, Manavi again contacted the human smuggler who helped him reach the Indonesian district of Bogor, where he joined a small community of Hazaras all waiting to go to Australia. Like him, they all had landed there after bribing their way through the Indonesian prisons and paying heavy amounts of money to human smugglers along the way. After many a twist and turn, Manavi managed to secure a berth on the ill-fated boat to Christmas Island.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are around 8,262 registered asylum seekers including Hazaras. Since the country is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, it therefore, does not let anyone stay as a refugee on its territory. But the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) run small centres within Indonesia where applications are processed for refugee status and those who get that status are then resettled in other countries. Of the many thousand asylum seekers in Indonesia, only 2,078 have received the status of refugees from the UNHCR, with the cases of more than 750 sent to different countries for resettlement. Hazaras cannot legally find work in Indonesia and even if they are under UNHCR’s watch, they have to survive on a meagre monthly stipend. “I live in a community house in Yogyakarta under the supervision of UNHCR and IOM. There are 40 Hazaras here. We are not allowed to work but we can roam around the city,” Manavi tells the Herald.

Brain drain

According to the HRCP, Hazaras leaving Pakistan are not illiterate and poor— as is generally the case with economic migrants from other parts of the country. “Among them are businessmen, highly educated workers and senior government officials,” says Khan of HRCP.

Amjad Hussain, 40, a senior Hazara journalist, is one of them. Till 2010, he was based in Quetta, working as a reporter with a prominent private television news channel. Then, he started receiving death threats. While he was in Islamabad on a reporting assignment, his best friend was shot on April 16, 2010, right outside the main entrance of the bank where he was working, on Quetta’s Jinnah Road. He succumbed to his wounds before reaching the hospital. When a large number of people from the Hazara community gathered at the hospital to receive his body, a suicide bomber exploded himself at the entrance of the emergency ward, killing many more.

Hussain received a call the same night. “The person on the phone told me that I was his next target,” he says. His employer transferred him to Islamabad for his safety but he kept receiving warnings against reporting under his own name. The threats also made him write to the then Australian Prime Minister and the Australian immigration minister, asking them for a work visa. But his only option was a refugee status.

Knowing that life in Australia would not be easy as a refugee, Hussain, however, decided that it would definitely be “more promising than staying in Pakistan,” where he faced constant threats to his life. He now lives in Australia waiting to become a legal refugee, having left behind a long and successful career in journalism, as well as his wife and two children.

Most Hazaras choose Australia as their best bet, because they have community support there. As they generally are a close- knit society, they are offered all kinds of help from the community upon reaching there.

Even the few fortunate ones who, like Hussain, are able to make it to Australia on legal documents, may have to wait for over a year to have their applications for refugee status approved. Faced with ever-increasing numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants trying to reach Australia, the government there has tightened its border control and made its immigration rules and regulations very stringent. For instance, anyone applying for asylum in Australia on the basis of a threat to his life, while in Pakistan, must provide evidence of the threat. Many Hazara families in Quetta and Karachi, indeed, meticulously put together all photographic evidence of any attacks against them, in case they need it to apply for asylum in Australia.

Australian authorities are also making a lot of effort to limit the number of asylum seekers, including clamping down on human traffickers as well as working closely with countries where most asylum seekers originate from. Australian officials, for instance, are collaborating with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to ensure that those leaving Pakistani airports and other exit points for Australia have valid travel documents. For those trying to reach Australia by boat, rules and regulations have become even stricter. The Australian High Commission in Pakistan has put up huge bilingual billboards – in Urdu and Hazargi – in Quetta to warn potential migrants that anyone seeking to illegally enter Australia by boat “will never make Australia [their] home”.

Journalist Hussain, says these precautions will deter few, if any, Hazaras from trying to leave Pakistan. They face a certain death if they stay in Quetta or Karachi but, if they try to make it to Australia; they have a slim chance of surviving. They will always be ready to take that chance, no matter how slim, he tells the Herald.

This report was originally published on Click on this link to read timeline of Hazara Killing in Pakistan in the past decade:

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First group of asylum seekers granted refugee status on Nauru

May 22, 2014

The first asylum seekers to be granted refugee visas on Nauru have been released into the community.

Thirteen asylum seekers have been given refugee protection, including an Iranian family and four single men.

They have now been released from Australian immigration detention on the island and given five-year visas.

They will be given the option of settling in Cambodia if a resettlement deal between Australia and that country is signed as expected.

Seven people received negative assessments, including four people in two families and three single adult men. They remain, for now, in detention.

The Iranian family was met by Save the Children staff at the Anibare Lodge family accomodation, while the single men are being housed at a separate site.

Nauru’s government says refugees who resettle in the community are free to move around the island and seek employment.

The first refugee determinations come nearly two years after the former Labor government began sending asylum seekers who arrived by boat to the tiny Pacific island nation.

There are now more than 1,100 asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru.

The Nauruan government says the refugees will be supported by a buddy system to help them integrate into island life.

It says they are settling into temporary accommodation and will soon move to more permanent and more suitably located housing.

The Nauruan government is expecting to deliver another 21 refugee determinations today.

Struggling Nauru can’t take in extra people: MP

Nauru opposition MP Mathew Batsua says it does not make sense for the struggling nation to be taking the refugees but the country would do its best to accommodate them.

“We’re a small country, we have many issues ourselves. We’re struggling with infrastructure issues, health issues, education issues, so to take on extra people doesn’t make sense for us. We think we’re too small and we haven’t changed our position at all,” he said.

“I think culturally, because we are obviously worlds apart in terms of what we use and the ways of life in the Pacific versus where they came from, religion-wise, I think Nauruans in general are very accommodating and hospitable people. We are willing to give people a chance if they are able to settle in.

He says the Nauruan government needs to be more forthcoming with information about how the resettlement will work.

“The government are behaving in ways that are detrimental to Nauru, ways that are detrimental to the representation of Nauru. They are being very secretive which is totally contrary to what we believe our role should be.

“We need to be open to show the international community we can do this well and we can do it in an open manner.”


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Eight church leaders detained for refusing to leave Tony Abbott’s electoral office

May 19, 2014

Picture: Supplied

Picture: Supplied Source: NewsComAu

EIGHT religious leaders today were detained by police in Sydney after refusing to leave Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s electoral office in a protest against asylum seeker policy.

The protesters invited office staff to join prayers for about 1000 child refuge seekers in detention centres and demanded their release.

And there could be more prayer protests and civil disobedience to come in a national campaign as groups have previously occupied the offices of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

The “prayer vigil” at the Prime Minister’s office was co-ordinated with a similar sit-in in the Melbourne electoral office of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

Moderator of the Uniting Church in NSW and ACT, Rev Dr Brian Brown was at Mr Abbott’s office and a former President of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Dr Alistair Macrae was in the Melbourne group.

The eight removed by police in Sydney were later released without charges being laid.

Neither Mr Shorten nor Mr Abbott were present at the time. About 12 people were involved in the initial protest at each site. They were allowed to stay at Mr Shorten’s office.

It was a “peaceful action is a response to Australia’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers and an appeal to the two major parties to end the bipartisan tragedy of offshore detention, especially of children”, said a spokesman for the two groups.

Those involved in the occupations included two Catholic priests, a nun, two Baptist pastors, an Anglican Priest, five Uniting Church ministers, and a number of lay church leaders.

“Churches across Australia are speaking out in one voice about the cruelty of imprisoning children in detention centres and we are here today to ensure these calls for justice for the most vulnerable in our society are not ignored,” said Sister Brigid Arthur, a Catholic nun from the Brigidine order, who was at Mr Shorten’s office.

“Churches have exhausted all formal channels of policy debate on the issue of asylum seekers, that’s why we are risking arrest today,” said Rev Brown before the Sydney vigil.

“There comes a time when such grave injustice must be confronted directly through peaceful acts of civil disobedience, we believe that to be silent is to be complicit in the injustices being perpetrated against asylum seekers.”


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Filed under Detention Centers, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Looking for a promised land – the Hazaras of Dandenong

May 15, 2014

Bestway boysDSC0449

Walk into the Bestway Supermarket on Dandenong’s Lonsdale Street and you’ll immediately see 20 litre cans of sunflower oil and 80 litre cooking pots stacked neatly near the entrance.

There are also posters advertising Quran classes, English lessons and home child care.

This simple social accoutrement gives you an oblique insight into Dandenong’s close-knit Afghan Hazara community.

Bestway’s co-owner Mohammad Reza says: “Australians come in and see the big pots and they laugh. But what they don’t realise is that if we have a get-together or a party at someone’s house – and we Hazara have lots of these functions –  there will be 60 or 70 people and they all have to be fed.”

Reza was one of the first Hazaras to settle in Dandenong in the late 1990s. He worked for three years in a slaughterhouse in Pakenham and then opened a small shop on Thomas Street, one block back from the main drag. He sold groceries and other items to an almost exclusive Afghan and Iranian clientèle. In January Reza and his brother and a cousin opened the Bestway Supermarket on a prime spot in central Dandenong opposite the imposing, recently refurbished Drum Theatre. The tidy, well-stocked shop serves as many locals as it does Afghans; you can buy Vegemite and Tim Tams as well as sheep’s brains and Lavash bread.

The Hazara community around Dandenong has grown steadily over the past fifteen-or-so years to the point where there are now an estimated 12,000 living in the area which now extends to Narre Warren, Hampton Park and Cranbourne.

The first Hazaras arrived in the late 1990s as attacks on them in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani city of Quetta, to which many had fled from the Taliban, increased exponentially.

Hazarav protest_DSC0626As mostly Shia Muslims, the Hazara are targets for violence by extremist Sunni Muslim groups such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangri. More than 1500 have been killed and 4000 maimed over the past decade in Pakistan and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice in that time. It is not known how many more have been killed by the Taliban inside Afghanistan.

Hazaras are the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, at about 2.8 million, the majority of whom are Shiite Muslims. They also have a population approaching 500,000 in neighbouring Pakistan.

The word Hazar means ‘‘thousand’’ in Persian and some experts believe they are descendants of Mongol soldiers left by Genghis Khan in the 13th Century; a theory supported by the Hazaras’ distinctive Asiatic facial features. The Hazara comprise the largest ethnic group seeking asylum in Australia and this exodus from terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan has produced a two tier community among the Hazara in Dandenong.

There are those who have jobs or businesses and relatively settled and comfortable lives. And there are those who arrived after August 2013 – as Australian politics became consumed with the ‘boat people’ issue – who do not have work rights and whose futures are uncertain.

The asylum seekers without work rights are typically single men, sharing cheap housing and existing on benefits payments that are less than the dole. Despite this, the Hazaras have built a vibrant community and sub-economy in Melbourne’s south-east.

Photographer Barat Ali Batoor, who is compiling a photo exhibition on the community, says the Hazara community is defined by its circumstances.

“It’s a very close community because we are all a long way from home and we all know what is happening there – there have been so many Hazaras killed in the past few years and anyone who knows anything about the political situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan will tell you that it is only going to get worse,” he said.

Batoor, who worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan and whose exposure of the sex slave trade in his home country earned him international recognition and made him a target for the Taliban and conservative interests, says there are strong cultural bonds in the Hazara community.

“Hazaras tend to look out for each other and they’re very social. In Dandenong there is a very strong Hazara cultural scene. There are youth groups, music groups, theatre, sporting groups and other community activities,” he said.

Mohammad Danesh runs a recycling business. He came to Australia in 2005 as a refugee from Ghazani Province in Afghanistan sponsored by family members already living here. Originally, he settled in Sunshine – at the time there were five or six Hazara families living there.

“We stayed about a year,” he said. “Then we moved to Narre Warren South – close to Dandenong – where the majority of Afghans live,” Mohammad said. “It was easier to communicate and connect with the community,” he said. Mohammad opened a supermarket and grocery business with some partners. After two-and-a-half years he left open a recycling business which is still running.

Mohammad’s son Bashir runs a travel agency and money exchange in a Dandenong arcade dominated by Afghan and other immigrant-run businesses. Bashir was 13 when he arrived in Australia and completed his VCE and went on to study international business and aviation.

“Language is one of the main issues for Afghans looking for work here. So it’s very important to learn English,” Bashir said. “Because I was quite young when I came to Australia it was easier for me,” he said.

Bashir says there is a small Hazara-based economy running in the Dandenong area which provides some employment for newly arrived migrants and refugees.

“We have, for example, Hazara businesses which import things you can’t buy in Australian shops. This makes it easier for people in the community to get their traditional goods and it gives some people jobs.”

Not far from Bashir’s arcade, lives a man who does not have a job nor a business to run. ‘Syed’ fled his home in Quetta in fear of his life – leaving behind his wife and children and his elderly mother. As a middle ranking public servant and a Hazara, he attracted the attention of the Taliban.

“I had to leave because there were men with guns looking for me. My colleagues at work told me not to come to work because these men had come to my office looking for me,” Syed said.

Syed arrived in Australia after August 2013 and so does not have the right to work. “It is very difficult for us because we cannot work. We just sit at home with nothing much to do and with very little money,” he said.

Asylum seekers receive 89 per cent of Centrelink benefits – or just over $200 a week for a single adult. “It is very hard. We want to work but we cannot. We would like to work to support ourselves and our families – we do not want to take money from the Australian Government,” Syed said.

Taiba Kiran, an Education Counsellor with refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES, and herself a Hazara, sees her own community from a range of perspectives. “It’s a very close-knit community and people are very helpful toward each other. People already here, are established and working to help new arrivals to settle in,” she said.

Kiran says Dandenong became a magnet for the Hazara because a critical mass of population was achieved. “You had a few Hazara living here and that attracted more and then more,” she said.

“There was also affordable and available housing and all the key services are here,” Kiran said.

“The Hazara are just the most recent wave of immigration that Dandenong has seen over decades. You had the Greeks and Italian in the 1950s, then Albanians and Vietnamese – now its Afghans. Businesses were established here that provided the special requirements – halal meat and other food imported from Afghanistan or surrounding countries.” She said.

Zakia_DSC0916Another prominent Hazara woman is Zakia Baig. She founded the Australian Hazara Women’s Friendship Network (AHWFN)in November 2012, with the aim of helping other Hazara women feel comfortable in Australia by providing them with a social network and building their confidence.

“Friendship is the main focus,” she said. “We want them to feel welcome, accepted, and part of the broader Australian community.”

Her organisation gives women the opportunity to receive regular training as well as free English classes in their own language. They start by building basic skills, such as English, finding friends in the Dandenong community and gaining the knowledge and confidence to access services, use public transport and learn computer skills.

Zakia won SBS’s My Community Matters competition in 2013 – by submitting a story outlining her journey from Pakistan to Australia, speaking about the importance of community and women’s rights – and got the chance to share it with then Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Australia Day.

“We are working especially with newly arrived and older women who suffer isolation and a lack of connection with the broader community,” Zakia said.

“It is alarming for us because we can see that in the future our women might suffer even greater isolation. But we are meeting this challenge by taking them out and helping them mingle in the wider community. A lot of our women are not well educated or literate and this makes for a lot of communication problems.

“The cultural differences are also an issue. Many Afghans, and particularly women, have no understanding of other cultures and so no way of making friends from other cultures.

“One of our strengths though is that we are a close community and everyone tries to help one another – this is because we’ve been living in areas where discrimination and repression of Hazaras is very high.”

Zakia says Hazaras are different from most other ethnic groups in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

“I think the Hazaras are more enterprising, more open and welcoming. They are secular, accepting and peaceful. Hazaras have the attitude that if you’re going to survive, then you have to find a way to get on with people and make a life,” she said.

Zakia says the newly arrived Hazara asylum seekers who don’t have work rights are accepted and included by more established members of the community but that the longer standing members could do more.

“Newly arrived people are included very much in community events but they still have their challenges,” she said.

“For instance the local community could do more to provide English classes for this group,” she said. But overall, Zakia says the Hazara community is in good shape.

“I’m optimistic, as a community we are making progress. We have students going to uni – including young women – which would never happen in Afghanistan,” she said.

“More women are coming out of their homes and if they’re given opportunities, they are very capable and keen to find ways to make contributions and to shine,” Zakia said.

“These are very positive signs. Despite all the challenges we still face, Dandenong and Australia have been good for the Hazara.”

Bestway Supermarket owner Mohammad Reza is now an Australian citizen. He came here on an asylum seeker boat to escape the dangers he faced in his home city of Kabul.

“I am very happy to be here in Australia – not for myself but for my family. They are safe here and they have good lives,” he said. “My son is studying civil engineering at uni and my daughter is in Year 11. They are both studying hard and want to be successful for themselves and also to help our community.”

“I’m proud of my son and I dream sometimes that he will go back to Afghanistan one day as an engineer and help rebuild the country. My daughter wants to be a scientist and that is something we couldn’t dream of in Afghanistan. They would never let us do these things because we are Hazara.” Reza says many members of the Hazara community have family back home they worry about.

“I remember when I first came here, I would drive my car to a quiet place and cry because I felt bad about being away from my family,” he said.

“I’d love to go back to my country and take my children to show them how people live there – I consider my homeland like my mother. But unfortunately the people there won’t let me go back.”

Reza said Hazara people gravitated to Dandenong after a fledgling community was established.

“The immigration department put us all over the place so we had to find each other. We needed to help each other with learning English, finding work, schooling and even being able to shop for the things we needed.

“Also all the facilities were located here – immigration, Centrelink and doctors and a lot of people don’t have cars so they have to walk.

“Here in Dandenong it’s easy for us to connect with each other and community is very important to us Hazaras.

“Hazaras are very social; we are accepting and we can get on with anyone. We get together a lot in big groups – that’s why we need the big pots,” Reza laughs.



Filed under Hazara Persecution, Life after detention, Talented Asylum Seekers