Monthly Archives: September 2014

Nauru detention centre: Labor, Greens demand investigation into claims of sexual abuse against women and children

September 30, 2014

PHOTO: Asylum seekers on Nauru demonstrate against the Australian Government's immigration policies.(Refugee Rights Action Network: Victoria Martin-Iverson)

Labor and the Greens are demanding an investigation into claims of sexual abuse against women and children inside the Nauru detention centre.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said women inside the centre were regularly required to strip and exchange sexual favours with guards so they could have access to the showers.

She said there were also allegations children had been forced to have sex in front of guards at the centre.

“The culture inside the Nauru detention camp is toxic,” she said.

“It’s dangerous for children and coupled with all of that, we’ve seen over the last few days – young people and children – now not only witnessing self-harm and suicide attempts, but participating in that themselves.”

Senator Hanson-Young said asylum seekers had raised the allegations with case workers inside the centre, while she had raised the issues directly with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison last weekand was waiting for a response.

Labor frontbencher and former immigration minister Chris Bowen said the Government needed to take action.

“Any report like that is concerning,” he said.

“And the appropriate thing when you have … allegations like that is a proper and thorough investigation and full transparency from the government.”

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Showers in the detention camp are regulated because of the island’s uncertain water supply.

The Government said the allegations had been referred to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Cambodia relocation to go ahead despite protests

Refugees living on Nauru have vowed to continue to protest against the Australian Government’s $40 million resettlement deal with Cambodia.

Yesterday a group of refugees who have already been resettled on Nauru held a protest march, describing the Cambodia deal as cruel and unfair.

In pictures provided to the ABC demonstrators could be seen holding a sign which read “Only our corpse [sic] might go to Cambodia.”

A young girl held another sign which said “Suicide is sweeter than Australia’s dirty policy.”

A protest was also held on Friday by former detainees of the offshore processing centre on the island.

The group from the Monday protest presented a letter to the Australian High Commission on Nauru, urging Australia to reconsider the Cambodian deal, which was signed by Mr Morrison in Phnom Penh at the end of last week.

“Australian Government has driven this [sic] people to the point that they feel like they have reached the end,” the letter signed by ‘Nauru refugees’ said.

It continued, “They feel like they have nothing to lose. They want the Australian governments to know that they can send us to Cambodia but only our dead bodies.”

Under the resettlement deal, people who were recognised refugees and agreed to be settled in Cambodia would be given Khmer language training on Nauru before being relocated to the South East Asian country.

Iranian man Rahman, who was involved in the protest and only wanted his first name published, said people were scared at the prospect of being settled in Cambodia.

“People here are so angry and upset at the deal signed with Cambodia, we don’t want to go to Cambodia, he said.

“I think Cambodia is not a safe place, it’s a very poor country. I don’t understand their language, there is lots of crime in Cambodia. I don’t feel safe in Cambodia, I have no future in Cambodia.”

Last week Mr Morrison told the ABC that four or five refugees would be voluntarily settled in Cambodia in the program’s early stages, with more to follow at a later date.

The deal was criticised by human rights groups, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres describing the move as a “worrying departure from international norms.”

On Saturday the government confirmed that a 15 year-old girl held on Nauru had been medically evacuated to Australia.

Refugee advocates said the girl attempted suicide after learning she could be settled in Cambodia.

There are also unconfirmed reports of unrest inside the detention centre on Nauru last night. A number of sources have told the ABC that the security level in the centre is now at its maximum, and more security staff are being brought onto the island.

A video has also emerged which appears to show a number of asylum seekers who have sewn their lips together in protest at the Cambodia resettlement deal. It is unclear where the video was filmed, but former workers on the island told the ABC that they recognised some of the men in the short video.

A spokesperson for Mr Morrison said in a statement the minister had been informed of the protests.

“The minister has been advised that the department is aware that some transferees are engaging in peaceful protest activity in Nauru, and is working with its service providers to ensure the continued safety and good order of the facility.”

The Cambodian government has said that any refugees sent there by Australia would stay in a temporary camp in Phnom Penh for a year, but would not be allowed to settle in the capital.

It said they would eventually live in the regions, but did not stipulated where.

A Cambodian government delegation is due to travel to Nauru soon to survey the living conditions there and talk to refugees.




Filed under PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues

Australian man tortured and killed by Taliban in Afghanistan, family says

September 28, 2014

Sayed Habib, a 56-year-old from Sydney of Hazara origin, was reportedly captured while travelling between Kabul and Jaghori.

Sayed Habib
Sayed Habib with a family member.

An Australian citizen has been tortured and killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, according to his family.

Sayed Habib, a 56-year-old who lived in Sydney, was reported as captured by Taliban militants on 20 September as he travelled from Jaghori to Ghazni province in southern Afghanistan.

Negotiations between the Taliban and elders from the local Hazara population led to hopes that Habib would be released.

However, his body was discovered on Tuesday. Local people who found his body said he had been shot three times, once through his neck and twice in the chest, with signs that he had been tortured before he was killed.

Habib, who had lived in Australia since 2000, was visiting relatives who are part of the Hazara community, which has been regularly persecuted by the Taliban. Several other murders of religious and ethnic minorities have recently occurred in the area where Habib was taken.

According to his family, Habib had been in Afghanistan since May, waiting for it to be safe enough to travel from Kabul to Jaghori to visit the wife and children of his son, who is currently in Indonesia, attempting to gain asylum in Australia.

Kubra Mosawi, Habib’s daughter who lives in the Sydney suburb of Berala, said that although the death has been reported to Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade, no assistance has been forthcoming.

“Everyone has been in shock, it’s just unbelievable,” she told Guardian Australia. “He’s an Australian citizen and yet nothing’s happened yet. I’m not in a good condition to do all the paperwork; I’m in a bad situation. I don’t know what’s going on, no one has been contact.

“I want the government to find out how the Taliban knew how my dad was going back to Kabul. It is obvious they got a report about him because they went onto the minibus and said ‘Sayed Habib, get up.’

“He wasn’t anything to do with the government there. They just wanted to stop him coming back to Australia. I don’t want anyone else to experience this. Every minute we think of my brother’s family who are still there, I can’t study or work because of the stress of it.”

Habib has been buried in Jaghori. His wife and youngest son, who lives in Melbourne, travelled to Afghanistan for the funeral.

The department of foreign affairs and trade (Dfat) advises that Australiansshould not travel to Afghanistan due to the “extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack.”

Dfat considers foreigners to be at particular risk of attack in Afghanistan, with security stepped up at the Australian embassy following an attack on the La Taverna restaurant in Kabul in January.

A spokesman for Dfat said: “The Australian embassy in Kabul continues to seek to confirm reports an Australian-Afghan dual national has been killed in Afghanistan.

“The area where these events reportedly occurred is contested by the Taliban and it will be difficult to obtain definitive and official confirmation of the man’s death from the Afghanistan government.

“Consular officials are providing assistance to the man’s family. We urge all Australians considering travelling to Afghanistan to consult the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website, which continues to advise that Afghanistan remains a Do Not Travel destination.”


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Scott Morrison strikes deal with Clive Palmer to reintroduce temporary protection visas

September 25, 2014 | the age / ABC News

Some asylum seekers could eventually be given permanent residency in a deal reached between Clive Palmer and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to allow the reintroduction of temporary protection visas and remove all asylum seekers from Christmas Island.

As part of the deal, apart from of the reintroduction of a three-year temporary protection visa, the federal government will also introduce a new five-year visa – called the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa – that will allow asylum seekers to eventually apply for other onshore visas.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has announced a deal with Clive Palmer to reintroduce temporary protection visas for asylum seekers.Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has announced a deal with Clive Palmer to reintroduce temporary protection visas for asylum seekers. Photo: Andrew Meares

The visa will allow asylum seekers to be granted onshore visas, such as family and skilled visas as well as temporary skilled and student visas.

This means that asylum seekers could eventually be given permanent residency if they fulfil the requirements of the other onshore visas

In a press conference in Brisbane, Mr Palmer announced 1500 people will be moved from Christmas Island to mainland Australia as part of the deal with the government.

“It’s also a good thing that it doesn’t have people locked in a ghetto situation with no hope for themselves or their family,” he told reporters in Brisbane.

Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra that the two visa options – the TPV and the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa – would only be offered to

people who are already in Australia and found to be refugees. Mr Morrison said it would not apply to anyone on Nauru, Manus or who arrived in Australia now.

Under the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa, asylum seekers who are found to be refugees would have to live and work in a regional area.

Under this visa, they could then apply for a range of other visas including a skilled migration visa, which could eventually lead to permanent residency in Australia.

“It means that if they do go to those places and they do work for 3.5 years out of the five, then they may make an onshore application for what could be a student visa, it could be a 457 visa but they would have to meet the eligibility requirements of those visas,” Mr Morrison said.

When asked whether there will be a cap placed on the number of  of the five-year visas, Mr Morrison said the government hadn’t decided whether that would be necessary.

“We haven’t considered whether a cap might be necessary,” he said. “And the flow of people will depend upon the assessment process and how many people are found to be refugees or not.”

Mr Morrison also touched on the Cambodia resettlement agreement, which he will sign in Phnom Penh on Friday, saying the deal would only be for refugees who voluntarily choose to permanently resettle in the impoverished country.

“There will be no surprise. The arrangement is strictly voluntary. Anyone who chooses to go to Cambodia will have chosen themselves to go to Cambodia,” he said.

“Support will be tailored to the needs of those as part of the package of measures that will go to their resettlement which is designed to make them self-reliant as quickly as possible.

“This will be an ongoing developing relationship. This is a country, Australia, who has the best record on resettlement of any country proudly in the world, working together with another refugee signatory country in our region to help them develop the capability to resettle refugees.”

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson Young said Mr Palmer had been “played”, calling the Safe Haven Enterprise visa a “furphy”.

“Most people won’t get it,” she said. “Most people won’t be able to be eligible for any type of transfer to permanency, and so they will be back in permanent limbo.”

Seantor Hanson-Young said she believed most asylum seekers would not be eligible for the new visa.

“I think Clive Palmer has well and truly been played. I think he took on something that was too complex and too big for him to handle.”

The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014:

  • introduces temporary protection visas for unauthorised arrivals already in detention
  • creates a new visa class of safe haven enterprise visa
  • deems that if an asylum seeker has a current permanent protection visa application in train that it be instead considered an application for a TPV
  • creates a fast-track assessment process for those who arrived on or after August 13, 2012, by removing access to the Refugee Review Tribunal and referring reviews instead to a new Immigration Assessment Authority
  • removes most references to the UN Refugees Convention and replaces it with Australia’s interpretation of its obligations under the convention
  • classifies children born to asylum seekers in Australia or a regional processing centre as “unauthorised maritime arrivals” to be blocked from applying for permanent visas, and resettled offshore
  • allows the Government to remove people who fail to gain refugee status, without regard to assessments of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations (refoulement being the international legal principle forbidding the return of a refugee anywhere their life or freedom could be threatened)
  • deems that a person has a well-founded fear if they face a “real chance” of persecution in all areas of a receiving country, and says decision-makers should consider whether the person can access an area where they do not face a real threat of persecution
  • puts a cap on the number of protection visas that can be issued in a year (which circumvents a High Court ruling earlier this year invalidating that approach)
  • give the Immigration Minister more powers to direct boat turnbacks
  • provide that the rules of natural justice do not apply to a range of powers, including the Immigration Minister’s new powers
  • allows a boat or people to be taken to a place outside Australia, whether or not Australia has an agreement or arrangements with the country
  • ensures the Government’s policies cannot be invalidated by the courts for not complying with international obligations


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Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

Residency for asylum seekers mooted under expected deal between Clive Palmer and Scott Morrison

September 24, 2014 | the age

A deal between Clive Palmer and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to allow temporary protection visas through the Senate is imminent, and could allow asylum seekers to apply for permanent residency.

Fairfax Media understands the leader of the Palmer United Party has asked that asylum seekers who are given temporary protection visas be allowed to apply for permanent residency and all families are to be removed from Christmas Island, in return for his support of the controversial visas.

Mr Morrison has been in active negotiations with the crossbench to get through the temporary protection visas, which have been voted down twice in the Senate.

Clive Palmer.Clive Palmer. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

If the government does offer permanent residency to people who are on TPVs, it will probably be contingent on specific working conditions covering employment and even where they locate. This would still represent a dramatic departure from the government’s hardline policy.

Only two weeks ago, Mr Morrison said the government “would not consider” offering permanent visas to the 30,000 caseload of asylum seekers who arrived under Labor.

“The idea that they could come onshore, and give them permanent visas, would be a terrible violation of the border protection regime that we have, and it is not something that the government will consider at all,” Mr Morrison said in an address at the National Press Club.

Yet at the same speech, he announced a policy change for asylum seekers who arrived after July 19 last year and before January 2014, saying he would consider offering them temporary protection visas if the Senate passed the visas.

Until then, Mr Morrison has maintained all asylum seekers who arrived after July 19 would be sent to offshore processing centres in Nauru and Manus Island.

A spokesman for Mr Morrison would not confirm if the deal was imminent, saying negotiations with Mr Palmer were “ongoing”.



Filed under Asylum Policy, Australian Government and Opposition

Asylum seekers: Morrison to sign resettlement deal with Cambodia

September 24, 2014 | the guardian

Australian immigration minister will later this week seal controversial agreement to move refugees from Nauru to southeast Asian nation.

Australia is seeking to move asylum seekers from the island of Nauru. Photograph: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

Cambodia and Australia will sign a controversial refugee resettlement deal later in the week, which will facilitate the transfer of refugees who have arrived in Australia and been transferred to the tiny island state of Nauru to be resettled in the impoverished southeast Asian nation.

Neither Australia nor Cambodia has shared details of the deal with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), despite serious concerns it will break international law.

The Cambodian government said on Wednesday that Australia’s immigration minister, Scott Morrison, will sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two governments on Friday.

Morrison later released a statement confirming the two countries would sign an MOU later in the week but gave no further details on the content of the deal.

According to a statement released by Cambodia’s ministry of foreign affairs and international co-operation, Morrison will pay a two-day visit to Phnom Penh starting on Friday and will co-sign the memorandum with Cambodia’s interior minister, Sar Kheng, at 3pm.

Negotiations between the two countries began in February, when Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, paid a visit to Cambodia.

But the full details of the deal have not been publicly disclosed and refugee advocacy groups, as well as the UNHCR, have expressed concern about the welfare of the refugees upon their arrival in Cambodia.

Vivian Tan, a UNHCR press officer in Bangkok, said in an email to Guardian Australia on Wednesday that she did not have the details of the agreement, because the UNHCR has not been a party to it, but have “expressed our concerns to officials of both governments based on what we know about it”.

“The UNHCR is worried about the adverse precedent being set by this type of arrangement that in the first instance, transfers asylum-seekers who have sought Australia’s protection to Nauru, in conditions that have previously been described as harmful, then relocates refugees recognised in Nauru to Cambodia.

“Asylum-seekers should ordinarily be processed, and benefit from protection, in the territory of the state where they arrive, or which otherwise has jurisdiction over them,” Tan added.

She said the UNHCR is also concerned that the practice of relocating refugees to other countries “where they may not be able to access fundamental rights” enables countries to divest themselves of their responsibilities as regards the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Human rights groups and legal bodies in both Australia and Cambodia have said they have not been consulted on its contents.

Numerous groups have voiced serious concerns that the resettlement deal is in violation of Australia’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention.

The Cambodia Daily reported on Wednesday unconfirmed details that the deal that the deal could be worth $40m.

The Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, described the impending MOU as a “dirty refugee deal”.

“Cambodia doesn’t have the capacity to look after these refugees, but the Abbott government simply doesn’t care,” Hanson-Young said.

“As one of the poorest nations in the world, Cambodia struggles to care for its own citizens, let alone the refugees that Australia wants to dump there.

“Those most at risk if the Abbott government goes ahead with this shameful deal will be vulnerable young women and girls.

“This is not what a regional solution looks like, this is cruelty.

More than 20% of the Cambodian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

At present, refugees coming to Cambodia rely heavily on support provided by NGOs such as the Jesuit Refugee Service. It assists with helping new arrivals find accommodation, attend language classes, and also provides small start-up loans.

However, Cambodia has a poor record with regard to its duty of care toward refugees. In December 2009, on the eve of a $1bn investment deal with China, Cambodia forcibly deported to China 20 Uighurs whose applications for asylum were still being processed. Of these, two were children and one of the women was pregnant. The decision was met with outrage from Amnesty International and the World Uyghur Congress.

Hanson-Young said that the Greens have received advice that the Australian government would need to get the resettlement deal approved by parliament.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said it was “disgraceful” that the agreement was “being rammed through in secret, with no public consultation despite concerns raised by Cambodian civil society”.

“Australia is undermining refugee protections by sending people to a country that is both ill-equipped to handle refugees and has an awful track record of not protecting asylum seekers,” Pearson said.

Sister Denise Coghlan, director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Phnom Penh, said the news of the impending MOU was “stunning,” particularly because of a failure of the Cambodian government to consult with civil society groups.

She said she had not seen the MOU, but understood it to be accompanied by two other documents; an implementation guideline and another, more detailed, daily plan.

When asked if the Jesuit Refugee Service had been consulted, she said: “Absolutely not. It was a secret – it sort of came out of the blue between Julie Bishop and [Cambodian prime minister] Hun Sen [in February].”

“I didn’t expect to be consulted, and maybe because the whole thing is shrouded in secrecy. I’m not sure any civil society was consulted. It would be good to consult the refugees,” she said.

Sr Coghlan did meet with Greg Kelly, an official sent over by Australia to begin working as a counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh, in August.

“I presented him my reservations about the [deal] and said I was quite pessimistic, whereas he was hoping to be optimistic


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Filed under Asylum Policy, PNG/Pacific Solution, UNHCR

Jon Stanhope, Christmas Island’s outgoing administrator, says keeping children in detention ‘hard-hearted’

September 22, 2014 | ABC News

Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

The indefinite detention of asylum seeker children in immigration detention centres has been labelled inappropriate and hard-hearted by the outgoing administrator of Christmas and Cocos islands, Jon Stanhope.

Mr Stanhope’s term ends at the beginning of October and he will be replaced by former West Australian Liberal MP Barry Haase.

Mr Stanhope, a former ACT chief minister, has been an outspoken critic of the asylum seeker policies of both Labor and Coalition federal governments.

He said asylum-seeker issues dominated his time on the remote Indian Ocean islands but a major concern for him has also been what he described as the lack of democratic institutions for the non-governing territories.

Mr Stanhope said 100 children were still being held in the asylum detention centre on Christmas Island, which is located 1,600 kilometres north-west of the Australian mainland.

These are the forgotten islands, the forgotten territories and to some extent the forgotten people of Australia, and that needs to change.

Jon Stanhope, outgoing administrator

“Here on Christmas Island we live in the midst of a group of children… who have have been in detention for over a year, and I don’t believe by any stretch of the imagination that that is appropriate,” he said.

“I think there has to be a better way and we need to find it.”

Mr Stanhope described the policy as “incredibly hard-hearted” and said it did not reflect how Australians thought of themselves.

“When you live here, and when you see it, and when you’re bumping into these children and you know little babies, little toddlers, confined by Australia in detention centres, behind fences and have been there for over a year, and the implications of that for them, their development and their welfare, raises very serious questions for we Australians,” he said.

Islands home to Australia’s ‘forgotten people’

Mr Stanhope also reflected on the services provided to the 2,500 residents of Christmas and Cocos islands, saying they were the “forgotten people”.

As non-governing territories, the residents vote at a federal level, but not a state level.

Services are provided on contract by the Western Australian Government.

Mr Stanhope said there were no aged-care services, no mental health, respite or in-home care services, and no consultation with residents as to what they wanted or needed.

“Services are imposed by the Commonwealth through a group of public servants that live primarily in Canberra and Perth and very rarely visit the place, and have no understanding of the needs and the nature of this particular community,” he said.

“I think the people of Christmas and Cocos islands are very much put upon.

“These are the forgotten islands, the forgotten territories and to some extent the forgotten people of Australia, and that needs to change.”

Mr Stanhope said he was not arguing for self-governance, but believed the residents of Christmas and Cocos islands must be consulted over services.

“I’m just arguing for democratic-style institutions and democratic process,” he said.

“The need to consult with people about the health service, the need to consult with people about the education service, and not just leave it up to public servants in Canberra and Perth.”

Detention centre no more significant than social club: Haase

The incoming administrator, who first visited Christmas Island as a soldier in 1965, said the immigration detention centre was one of several institutions on the island.

“The existence of the detention centre is no more significant than the existence of the local social club,” Mr Haase said.

Barry Haase and Tony Abbott, durack

“They are simply activities that occupy the space.

“One will have no greater significance to me as administrator than the other.”

Mr Haase flagged the island’s economy, which has historically relied on phosphate mining and the detention centre, as a primary area of concern.

He said tourism had also been a mainstay of the Indian Ocean territories, with Christmas Island in particular known for its red crab migration.

“How to improve the visitation numbers is something I’ll be hoping to involve myself in,” Mr Haase said.

A parliamentary committee has recommended Christmas Island’s casino, which closed in 1988, should re-open.

He said he would examine if that was something the local community wanted.

“If there was a casino on Christmas Island, who knows, maybe it will be something for us to work hard towards in the future,” he said.

“It depends on what the local population is interested in.”

Mr Stanhope now plans to return to Canberra and work in the community sector advocating for asylum seekers and refugees.



Filed under Asylum Policy, Detention Centers

Most know the boats have stopped, but asylum seekers keep coming to Jakarta

September 12, 2014 | The Age

Threatened: Mohammad Zaher Zafari and Shahista Dowoodi in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum.Threatened: Mohammad Zaher Zafari and Shahista Dowoodi in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Jakarta: A year after Operation Sovereign Borders swung into action, and more than four months since Australia turned back its last boat to Indonesia, scores of people still arrive each week in Jakarta to plead for asylum.

Every morning they gather at the narrow, steel gate of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to register their names and are confronted with a printed sign saying they will wait for a year at least.

Terrified: Hamid Ibrahimi, 15, who is sleeping on the streets as he seeks asylum at the UNHCR. Terrified: Hamid Ibrahimi, 15, who is sleeping on the streets as he seeks asylum at the UNHCR. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Most arrivals say they know before they leave their countries about Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s determination to stop the boats. “The way is closed,” as they put it, but still, at the rate of between 70 and 100 people each week, they come.

Across the road from the UNHCR office, on a blue-tiled step above a stinking drainage ditch, a group of eight young men from Afghanistan, the Palestinian Territories and Somalia are sleeping rough, unable to afford accommodation.

Ask Hadi Khododadi, 17, why he made the journey, and he looks at you as if it is obvious.

Dishonour: Mohammad Qadiri and Layla Ahmadi, who is pregnant, in the room they
have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum at the UNHCR. Dishonour: Mohammad Qadiri and Layla Ahmadi, who is pregnant, in the room they have rented after arriving in Jakarta to seek asylum at the UNHCR. Photo: Michael Bachelard

An Afghan Hazara, he arrived in May from Iran, where he was brought up after his parents fled Afghanistan. Without papers in Tehran he had no life; he says he was unable to study or work, and was often harassed by authorities and threatened with imprisonment.

He believed he had no other choice but to leave, so his father went to a people smuggler. His smugglers had listened to Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and did not mention boats.

“Every human smuggler now is talking about the UNHCR,” Khododadi says.

Destitute: Hadi Khododadi, 17, (in red) among a group of asylum seekers on the Jakarta roadside step where they sleep.Destitute: Hadi Khododadi, 17, (in red) among a group of asylum seekers on the Jakarta roadside step where they sleep. Photo: Michael Bachelard

“They say if you reach Indonesia, the UNHCR can help you and can give you money; you can go quickly to Australia or another country … just one year here, you can reach Australia legally.”

For most, that is a lie. The process is usually much longer – two to three years is standard – and the UNHCR provides no financial support. Asylum seekers cannot work in Indonesia or go to school and there is little access to other welfare organisations. Church World Service helps underage people but it has just 40 beds in Jakarta and they are full.

UNHCR figures show 5564 people are in Indonesia seeking asylum, and 3983 more have already been found to be refugees but do not have a resettlement place. Even though thousands have gone home, particularly to Iran, since Operation Sovereign Borders began, the total is kept high by the stream of new arrivals. Most are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia.

Delays: The sign on the gate at the UNHCR building in Jakarta warns the waiting time for a refugee determination is more than a year. Delays: The sign on the gate at the UNHCR building in Jakarta warns the waiting time for a refugee determination is more than a year. Photo: Michael Bachelard

People are dismayed Australia’s intake of refugees will drop again, as the Government says of its 13,750 refugee places, 4400 will be prioritised for victims of the conflict in Iraq and Syria. To these people, it suggests an even longer wait.

Khododadi has no money so, plagued by hunger, rain and mosquitoes, he tries to sleep by the side of the road. The property owners, a sympathetic Indonesian couple, feed him and his friends a rudimentary diet, but everything else – toilets and showers – cost.

It’s also dangerous. As we talk, Salim al-Zaalam, 46, another of the ravaged crew living on the step, stops to bellow at us about his troubles. He’s virtually blind, a situation caused, he says, by a beating from an Indonesian gang as he slept in the street. It’s hard to know what to believe; he also says British and US spies are pursuing him. Friends say during the 18 months he’s spent in Indonesia, Mr Zalaam’s body and mind have both deteriorated.

Hamid Ibrahimi is only 15 and terrified. He, too, is an Afghan Hazara who was living with his parents in Iran. Since he arrived penniless in Indonesia two months ago, he’s been sleeping on the roadside opposite the Church World Service office, also surviving on the charity of Indonesians.

His agent in Tehran insisted he could still go by boat to Australia if he found a smuggler in Indonesia.

“I thought if the way was open, I’ll go by boat,” he says. “If it’s closed I’ll stay. Now I understand that it will take years. What should I do? I am alone. No one looks after me. I am scared about what to do.”

Not only young men are making the journey.

Mohammad Qadiri and his lover Layla Ahmadi arrived two weeks ago and spent their first night in a park. They have temporarily rented a tiny room in an alley 10 minutes from the UNHCR office for $13 a night, but won’t be able to afford it for long. They have only $200 left.

The couple is unmarried and she is carrying his child, an offence that put their lives at risk in their home province of Parwan, Afghanistan.

“Her family wanted to kill me … they will throw stones at us, that is the danger,” Qadiri says.

They say they had no other option but to leave, via India and Malaysia, for Indonesia.

Ahmadi is sick, exhausted from the boat ride from Malaysia and the subsequent 24-hour drive from the landing place in Sumatra to Jakarta. She keeps clutching her belly and lying down. But they have a touching faith in the goodwill of Australians.

“Please, send our story to the Australian people and the Australian government so they can help us. If we have to stay here, five, four, three years, what should we do? I don’t have any more money.”

Mohammad Zaher Zafari and his wife Shahista Dowoodi are also running from potential honour killing. They are married, but a local political leader in Daykundi province also wanted to marry Dowoodi, 23, and so threatened to kill her husband.

Twice the politician and his cronies attacked Zafari with a knife, the first time on the night of the wedding. He lifts his shirt to show the scars. In a second attack the gang slashed him again and stole the taxi that provided his income. A bullet fired during that attack glanced off a rock and grazed the side of his head.

His people smuggler in Afghanistan simply promised a trip to Indonesia to wait in the UNHCR queue, but gave no indication of how long it would take.

“I can stay with my own money just for 15 to 20 days and then I’ll have to go to a detention centre,” Zafari says. Others have already sought out detention as their only way to survive.

Abbott and Morrison may have stopped the boats, but they cannot stop the world’s misery, nor how some people come to see no option but flight.

“We had to do this,” says Dowoodi glumly. “We didn’t have any other way.”




Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia