Monthly Archives: August 2014

Australia forcibly deports, for first time, Afghan asylum seeker

August 28, 2014

Australia has, for the first time, forcibly deported an Afghan asylum seeker to his homeland, with a 29-year-old ethnic Hazara sent back on Tuesday night from Sydney.

In the Federal Circuit Court yesterday, Judge Nicholas Manousaridis dismissed an application by the man to halt his deportation.

“Please help me,” the man, speaking Hazaragi, told the court through an interpreter.

Previous forcible deportations have seen Hazaras returned to Pakistan, but never to Afghanistan.

The 29-year-old ethnic Hazara, known to the court as SZUYW, first fled Afghanistan for Iran. Iran systematically deports Afghan asylum seekers and, having been ejected, the man then came to Australia by boat, arriving in December 2011.

His claim for asylum was rejected, and his appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal in December 2012 failed, the tribunal ruling that it was safe to live in his home district of Jaghori, in central Afghanistan, which is majority Hazara.

“The Tribunal notes that there is a significant population living in Jaghori. His family are living there … [and] as there is a route from Kabul to Jaghori that is secure, there is not a real risk the applicant will suffer significant harm.”

The man told the court yesterday he feared the Taliban.

“Jaghori is confined, it’s like a prison, the surrounding areas are all controlled by the Taliban. Many people die on the way to Jaghori.”

The Taliban have made significant advances in recent months, and now control several highways surrounding Kabul, including the so-called “Death Road” to central Afghanistan, which is rarely travelled now after dozens of beheadings, kidnappings and bombings.

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said the Refugee Review Tribunal’s security assessment was based on information now more than two years old. More recent RRT decisions have ruled Jaghori district was not a safe place for Hazaras to return to.

“It makes no sense to send someone back to a country that is descending into war, which Afghanistan is. The security situation has deteriorated dramatically and will only get worse. Hazaras are being targeted by the Taliban.”

The United Nations General Assembly report on Afghanistan, from March this year, found the security situation “remained volatile” and that armed clashes had increased 51 per cent since 2012.

Australia has returned refugees to Afghanistan before, but never against their will. In 2001, 179 refugees from the MV Tampa were returned to Afghanistan, after agreeing to go back while being held on Nauru.

An investigation by Fairfax Media in 2011 found at least 20 returned refugees had been killed in their homeland, several had fled again, for Australia and other countries, while more than a dozen remained in hiding.

The Refugees Convention, to which Australia is a party, prohibits refoulement, sending refugees back to a place where their “life or freedom would be threatened”.

The man was taken from Villawood detention centre where he was being held, and left Australia on a 9:40pm flight.




Filed under Deportation

Call to abandon ‘harsh’ asylum seeker policies: Coates

August 25, 2014

PROCESSING of asylum seekers could reach the Ballarat City Council chamber.

Councillor Belinda Coates will put forward a notice of motion hoping to get the council to join a statement to the federal government requesting it abandon its “harsh” asylum seeker policies.

“We have to be proactive about human rights and this sends a strong message from local government,” Cr Coates said. “The core of the issue is relevant to Ballarat. We have a strong community of support for refugees in groups and organisations who are well aware of the challenges they face.

“This says Ballarat is signing up for the bigger picture, what we do here and how we treat asylum seekers is important.”

Cr Coates, who is a member of the Greens party and has previously been criticised for bringing Greens policies into the chamber, said it was an issue that expanded further than one party.

“It’s an issue much of Australia feels very strongly about,” she said.

The joint statement, which has already been endorsed by 11 Victorian councils, requests visa applications of asylum seekers currently living in the community on bridging visas be processed as soon as possible.

It also asks for permanent residency to be made available to these asylum seekers.

Cr Coates said the joint statement ties in with the declaration of the Ballarat municipal district as a refugee welcome zone.


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

Scott Morrison says asylum seeker children can’t be released from detention without temporary visas

August 22, 2014


Photo: The Age

The claims for more 30,000 asylum seekers and children will not be processed until a controversial temporary visa is allowed through the Senate, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has told an inquiry.

During a sometimes fiery hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into children in detention, Mr Morrison said the asylum seekers would not have their asylum claims processed until he could offer a “visa product” that only offered temporary residency. The group includes more than 712 children and who arrived to Australia after July 19 last year. 

Mr Morrison acknowledged the extended time children were spending in detention, but blamed the Labor Party and the Greens for not allowing the temporary protection visas (TVPs) into the Senate.

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison Photo: Wolter Peeters

“The absence of such a visa product at present also removes the possibility of considering alternative options for those currently on Christmas Island or elsewhere in Australia, who arrived post July 19,” he said.

The minister also confirmed he was engaging with crossbenchers to agree to a TPV, which would restrict permanent residency for asylum seekers found to be refugees, but allow work rights.

The average length of time that a child spent in an Immigration Department detention facility as of July 31, was 349 days, the inquiry heard. At the same time last year, it was 115 days. 

In a heated exchange with the President of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, Mr Morrison was forced to defend claims that the conditions on Christmas Island were akin to a prison.

“I have been a practising lawyer since I was 22 years old and I have been to many prisons. I know a prison when I see it,” Professor Triggs said.

 “Are you suggesting that Long Bay jail is the same as a full-fenced alternative place of detention on Phosphate Hill on Christmas Island?,” Mr Morrison replied.

“I’m not saying they are equivalent,” Professor Triggs responded.

Earlier, Mr Morrison had taken the rare opportunity to talk about his own two children and the tough decisions he had to make in the Immigration portfolio.

“As a parent of two young children, the emotional challenges of working in this policy portfolio are just as real and just as great as they would be for any other parent in my position,” Mr Morrison said.

 “But sentiment cannot be indulged at the expense of effective policy that is saving lives and ending the chaos and tragedy that was occurring that many thought could never be turned around and that is my duty.”

Church groups and The Greens have described Minister Morrison’s TPV strategy as “holding the federal crossbenchers hostage” until the visas are allowed.

“We must remember these are families who have been separated by war and civil strife amongst other things,” Reverend Peter Catt said.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young agreed saying: “In the hearing today, the Immigration Minister explained that he is willing for children to be harmed for his own political gain.” 

When asked about the detention of children, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten responded saying: “Labor does believe in releasing children from detention but we also recognise it’s important that children have the opportunity to be with their parents.”

The President of the Commission, Gillian Triggs will present the findings of the inquiry later this year.

On Monday, Minister Morrison announced that children under the age of 10, and who arrived before July 19 would be placed on bridging visas by the end of the year. The policy change will affect about 150 children.




Filed under Asylum Policy, Human Rights and Refugee Activists

Australia to release some children from immigration detention

August 19, 2014

Australia's Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison speaks at a news conference during his working visit to Malaysia, at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency office in Putrajaya February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

Australia’s Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison speaks at a news conference during his working visit to Malaysia, at the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency office in Putrajaya February 5, 2014.


(Reuters) – The Australian government announced plans on Tuesday to release scores of children from immigration detention centers, following criticism from human rights advocates that detaining minors is detrimental to their mental and physical health.

However, the government is standing by its hardline, and much-criticized, immigration policies. It will grant freedom to around 150 of the 876 children currently held in detention centers on the Australian mainland and on remote islands.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said children and their families in centers on the mainland who arrived before the introduction of tough new laws in mid-2013 would be released into the community on bridging visas by the end of the year while their applications for asylum are processed.

Minors being held in offshore detention centers and those born in Australia to asylum seekers since a cut-off date of July 19 would be excluded.

Morrison said the exclusion was critical to Australia’s success in stopping asylum seekers from attempting the perilous boat journey, often made by people fleeing conflict zones after paying people-smugglers in Indonesia.

“Offshore processing is one of the measures stopping the boats and I don’t think encouraging children to get on boats where they can die at sea is an acceptable humanitarian outcome,” Morrison told reporters.

“This government won’t be watering down its policies on border protection that are saving lives at sea.”

Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott won an election last September after campaigning heavily on tough immigration policies, which have been criticized internationally but which polls show remain popular with voters.

Tuesday’s announcement came days before Morrison is to appear at an Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) inquiry. The inquiry has already heard evidence of detained children swallowing detergents, putting plastic bags over their heads and cutting themselves.

A group of prominent Christian leaders has accused Morrison of committing “state-sanctioned child abuse” with the government’s tough border security measures, while the United Nations has warned Australia could be violating its obligations as a signatory to U.N. refugee conventions.


The number of children still held in detention centers is down from a peak of 2,000 last July, Morrison said.

More than 500 are on the mainland, of whom 150 will be eligible for release. The 148 children on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and 193 children on the South Pacific island of Nauru will not be released.

A further 1,547 children held in mainland community detention centers will be looked at case by case, Morrison said.

The cut-off date of July 19 marks the introduction last year by the former Labor government of rules that meant all new boat arrivals would be sent offshore for processing.

Abbott’s government toughened that further with a secretive policy of turning back boats at sea. It also wants to ban permanent visas for anyone who arrived in Australia by boat.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn, which represents 94 babies born in detention to people who arrived since July 19, said all children in detention should be included in the release plans.

It said Christmas Island and Nauru did not have basic medical and health services.

A former doctor at Nauru told the HRC inquiry last month that the government asked him to cover up evidence that children held in the camps were suffering from widespread mental illness caused by their confinement.

Children on Nauru include around 50 minors who are among a group of 157 Tamil Sri Lankan asylum seekers who are at the center of a High Court challenge over the government’s authority to detain asylum seekers on the high seas and send them to another country.

“We have heard stories of children with teeth abscesses or teeth cavities that have gone untreated for months,” Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jacob Varghese said. “We know of children with grave psychological problems.”

“Today’s announcement needs to go much further – no child should be living in detention,” he said.




Filed under Detention Centers

Riding for refugees

August 15, 2014

PLIGHT: Afghani asylum seeker Rohullah Hussaini and Swan Hill Rural City councillor Michael Adamson are set to cycle to Canberra to raise awareness of refugee rights.

PLIGHT: Afghani asylum seeker Rohullah Hussaini and Swan Hill Rural City councillor Michael Adamson are set to cycle to Canberra to raise awareness of refugee rights.


An uncertain future

Refugee support

A BIKE and sheer determination are all Afghani asylum seeker Rohullah Hussaini needs to set out on the ambitious mission of bettering conditions for refugees in Australia.

Arriving in Australia in August 2012, Mr Hussaini has spent much of his life trying to survive.

As a Hazara man growing up in Ghazni, Afghanistan, a city near the capital of Kabul, he escaped his home country after concerns for his personal security reached a tipping point.

The Hazara people, primarily from the central highland region of Hazarajat in Afghanistan — which includes Ghazni Province — have been systematically persecuted by fundamentalist groups in the region since as far back as the 16th century.

These conditions have seen them become one of the largest groups of refugee people to seek asylum in countries that include Australia.

He initially sought asylum in Europe, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, before making the perilous journey to Australia.

Arriving before the Federal Government cracked down on ‘illegal’ refugee arrivals, Mr Hussaini has been able to find work as he waits to see if his application for asylum will be approved so he can remain in Australia permanently.


However, for refugees who arrived on Australian shores after a government policy change later in August 2012, they have no such right.

The hard-line approach to refugee issues in Australia has motivated Mr Hussaini to raise awareness of the issue through a 700km cycling trip.

Travelling from Swan Hill to Canberra, local councillor Michael Adamson will also join the pilgrimage to educate people along the way.


They will set off on August 21, arriving in Canberra for the first day of parliament on August 26.

“I want to show people that I am a refugee, I am from Afghanistan… and they don’t need to be scared of me,” Mr Hussaini said.

Cr Adamson said they were hoping the marathon ride would help people to better understand refugees and why they chose to seek asylum.

“I think that people think in Australia that the Hazara people are coming here just because they want to, but if they could stay in their homes they would — nobody wants to leave their home,” Cr Adamson said.

“Whether they come by boat, or plane, or swim across the ocean — we should stop victimising them and dehumanising them.”

Mr Hussaini recently applied for a permanent visa to remain in Australia, but remains unsure if he will be granted asylum after it was initially refused.

The refusal was based on the deciding body — the Refugee Council — deeming it safe enough for him to return home.

“The thing is Australia doesn’t even have a consulate in Afghanistan because they say it is not safe — but they say it is safe for us to return,” Mr Hussaini said.


When they arrive in Canberra, Cr Adamson and Mr Hussaini will present Member for Mallee Andrew Broad with a petition of names gathered in support of increased rights for refugees, and seek an audience with Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison.

“I want to support Rohullah in the process, I have done a number of long rides — it is not easy by yourself,” Cr Adamson said.

“I also want to support the issues that some of the Afghani refugees have in our country… to make a stand and say these are real people, with real needs and we can’t treat them like they are not.

“Rohullah is a great person and has made a great contribution to the community and yet he can’t get permanent residence.”

The pair are planning to cycle 150km each day, and are still looking for support along their journey.

Anyone is welcome to ride with the pair along the way, and supplies including some biking equipment, clothing and food are also sought.

To offer a hand contact Cr Michael Adamson on 0400 143 100.


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Filed under Life after detention

Anonymous Save The Children workers condemn ‘systematic’ rights violation at Nauru detention centre

August 14, 2014

Anonymous workers in the Australian-run immigration detention camps on Nauru have detailed what they call the “systematic violation” of the human rights of child asylum seekers.

The claim is made in a report by workers from Save The Children and submitted to Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Children in Detention.

The workers say they cannot reveal their identities, but feel a moral duty to speak out about the conditions on Nauru.

The submission describes numerous cases of abuse, including children being sexually abused, bullied and threatened by fellow detainees.

The report describes a child being sexually abused in the detention centre, while security guards looked on and failed to intervene.

In one case, a female detainee who complained about bullying was the target of a planned sexual assault by a group of men, and yet she and her relatives were knowingly kept in a tent near the men who had made the threats.

The tent leaked water, and was near electrical infrastructure, creating a life threatening situation.

The anonymous workers report that criminal background checks are not always completed on local Nauruan staff, thereby increasing the risk to children.

It is noted that criminal and other background checks in local employees are not mandated in the contract to run the detention centre.

“It is particularly concerning given there have been several employees accused of physical, verbal, and the sexual assault of children,” the workers wrote.

Morrison’s spokeswoman says allegations ‘very serious’

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the subject matter raised in these anonymous allegations is “very serious”.

“The department is working with Save the Children and the government of Nauru to determine the veracity of these anonymous claims and to what extent they are credible or relate to current practice,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

“The department has also asked Save the Children if any such concerns have been raised by any of their staff and to provide a response to the government on the allegations made.”

The Government has stated for weeks that it is awaiting the outcomes of the Human Rights Commission inquiry and any supporting evidence in the final report.

“The [Save the Children] submission addresses matters that are outside the terms of reference of the AHRC inquiry,” the statement added.

The report states “many children are living in knowingly unsafe circumstances,” due to what the Save The Children workers describe as the “unyielding and harsh” stance of the DIPB (Department of Immigration and Border Protection).

Staff say they are actively discouraged from advocating the removal of children, “except in the most extreme cases of documented harm”.

The anonymous workers say children in detention are exposed to traumatic situations every day, such as self harming events and violence, which serves as triggers to past traumatic events.

‘Blocked toilets with faeces on the toilets’

The report further outlines a lack of access to food, a lack of supervision, and young children being separated from their families across the network of detention centres.

Basic sanitation and hygiene is also a major problem according to the report, with the workers describing the family camp (OP3) as “overflowing”.

“There are outbreaks of lice, gastroenteritis and school sores that are difficult to contain due to the use of common showers, common eating areas and close living conditions,” the workers wrote.

The report states there are only two toilets for the new classroom at the detention centre for 200 children and local staff members cannot be relied upon to show up to work consistently to perform the cleaning of the facilities.

“There have been multiple times that the OP3 has ‘run out’ of water, resulting in overflowing  and blocked toilets with faeces on the toilets or on the floor of the toilet,” the report said.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young says the submission is explosive and that child detainees should be removed immediately from the Pacific Island nation.

“It outlines sexual, physical, verbal abuse and a significant lack of child protection inside the detention camp,” she said.

“It is unbelievable to think the Government cannot act in the face this evidence.”

Mr Morrison has agreed to give evidence to the inquiry into children in Australian immigration detention on a date yet to be set.

The inquiry is expected to report to the Government before the end of the year.


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Filed under Detention Centers, Torturing and Health Issues

Regional Australia opens its arms to ‘at risk’ women refugees

August 11, 2014

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

Twelve months ago no Hazara lived in the south-east Queensland town of Toowoomba but now there are 200 women and their dependents starting a new life in Australia.

They are among the lucky 1,000 who secured “Women at Risk” refugee visas last year but came with no English, no husbands and no qualifications.

Women from Afghanistan receive about half the visa quota and are flown to Australia from refugee camps in Pakistan.

“All I have been feeling since I got to Australia is joy and happiness,” said Latifa Amini who arrived in March.

“Through this move and the help that I got is here, I feel safe, my children feel safe, we live in a home we know is not going to be attacked by anyone, we know there is nobody that is going to come and take away things from us, we are safe here, that’s the main difference, I feel at ease,” she said.

Since 1989, Australia has issued about 14,000 “At Risk” visas to women from 37 countries. Initially only a few hundred a year were offered.

Many have suffered torture and abuse; lost their husbands, fled war zones and have limited means to provide from themselves.

“These are some of the most vulnerable women and children in the world and we’ve (Australia) really made a strong international commitment to take women through this program. It’s something we can be immensely proud of,” said Kerrin Benson, head of Multicultural Development Australia the organisation that is supporting the Hazara women.

Latifa Amini arrived in March with her two sons and a sister and was brought straight to Toowoomba to start her new life.

“We’re delighted to have them here, we welcomed them when they first arrived, in fact we’ll have a celebration soon of their 12 month stay in Toowoomba,” said Toowoomba mayor Paul Antonoi.

“There was a deliberate move by council to become a Refugee Welcome Zone.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming here for a long time, and even if you look back in our early history, while that immigration was European, there was tremendous cooperation between cultures, the Irish, the Germans, who wouldn’t have known each other.”

Since the first Hazara arrive about a year ago they have been learning English and how to use their cooking and sewing skills to earn an income.

This weekend they put their results of their hard work to the test, with a food and craft stalls at the Toowoomba Cultures and Languages Festival, attended by about 15,000 people.

“My ultimate goal would be that I would not be a burden to the Australian community and government and people, my aim would be to be independent and work and earn enough money to live,” said Latifa Amini.

Toowoomba did make them feel welcome and the Hazara food stall sold out of everything.

“I want it to be like today, full of joy and happiness and we can present our culture through our handiwork or crafts, food or cooking, music. Today was a happy day,” Latifa Amini said.



Filed under Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers, Talented Asylum Seekers