Monthly Archives: December 2014

Refugees living on Nauru say they want to return to detention to flee violence

December 31, 2014 | the guardian

Reports of physical and verbal abuse have become commonplace since the release of hundreds of refugees from detention on the island.

Nauru detention centre
Somali women in a room at Anibare, one of four open camps in Nauru. Hawo, right, said she was attacked by local men twice in two days. Photograph: Rémi Chauvin/The Guardian

Refugees on Nauru say they have pleaded with Australian immigration authorities to return them to detention centres because of violence and harassment from some members of the local population.

Some women living in camps for refugees say they sleep wearing jeans because they are afraid of being raped by local men.

The release of hundreds of refugees since May has caused turmoil in the tiny Pacific nation. Many Nauruans support the refugees and treat them with kindness. But a section of the community has declared its deep antagonism toward the new arrivals.

An Iranian who asked to remain anonymous said refugees lived under constant threat of physical and verbal abuse.

“They attack the refugees,” he said. “You are walking in the street, they say ‘fuck you, go back to your camp’. They throw rocks. They spit at you. This is normal.”

Earlier this month refugees on Nauru told Guardian Australia of physical bullying in schools and regular attacks on the streets.

Australia’s immigration department has confirmed that assaults have occurred. Refugees said violent crimes were committed with impunity and there was no point complaining to police. In some cases doing so even led to reprisals, they said.

In Anibare, one of four open camps that house those who have been granted asylum, Guardian Australia spoke to a group of Somali women who escaped their country alone. Without the protection of men they feel especially vulnerable.

Hawo (names have been changed to protect identities) said she was attacked by local men twice in two days last week.

On Wednesday a passing motorcyclist swung his arm at her and knocked her down in the road, she said. The next day a different man cornered her outside the supermarket. She said he grabbed her in a bear hug and tried to kiss her. She thought she was going to be raped and screamed for help, causing her assailant to run away.


Even the camps are unsafe. The women said local men came around the back of their camp at night and knocked on their windows. They sleep in their jeans, fearing prospective rapists.

Majma said she was beaten two weeks ago by a security guard employed to protect residents. Following a dispute over a fridge he broke into her room, knocking her to the floor and punching her repeatedly in the chest, she said.

She said the incident was witnessed by workers from Save the Children, who helped her to make reports to Australian immigration authorities and the local police.

The guard is still working at the camp. Majma said he told her she “did not deserve” to have things in her room fixed because she had complained to the police.

She said the guard told her “even if you complain, this is our home country, this is Nauru. You’ll just go back on the boat you came with.”

A third woman, Annisa, said the refugees felt so threatened they had asked Australian immigration authorities to put them back into detention. She said she had made the request despite suffering both physical and sexual abuse at the hands of guards while in detention.

“I expressed my fear to the immigration that I don’t feel safe in Nauru. There’s no way. Let me stay in the camp, because the camp at least is better than outside. They said: ‘No. The camp is for asylum seekers, you’ll stay [in Nauru for] five years,’” she said.

Save the Children is contracted by the Australian government to provide social services to refugees. A spokeswoman for the charity declined to comment on individual cases, but said: “There remains significant work to be done to allow refugees to integrate into the Nauruan community in a safe and harmonious way, and we urge the governments of Nauru and Australia to continue to make this an urgent priority.

“Ultimately, Save the Children believes that Nauru is not a sustainable, long-term option for the resettlement of humanitarian refugees.”

The immigration department declined to comment on individual cases, but said the government still considered Nauru a viable place to resettle refugees.

A spokesman for the department said: “Australia remains committed to the processing and settlement arrangements in place in Nauru, and to working with the government of Nauru to help it realise the enduring social and economic benefits of becoming a refugee settlement country.”

He said police in Nauru had been pursuing perpetrators of violent crimes: “Refugees are encouraged to report any incidents or concerns to the police, who have been active in investigating those incidents which have occurred and have laid charges where appropriate.”

On Boxing Day two Iranian men were taken to hospital after an alleged assault by locals near the Nibok camp.

Mahmood Khalili later told Guardian Australia he had been fishing with his friend Medhi Ghasemi when two Nauruan men approached them and asked for a cigarette.

When Khalili reached into his pocket he was kicked in the chest and fell off the harbour wall, he said. He said he fell more than two metres on to rocks before rolling into the water.

The men said when Ghasemi protested, he was also kicked off the edge into the sea. Powerful waves then threw the men against the rocks as they tried to scramble back to shore, they said.

“We swim and we come near the rocks,” Khalili said. “Medhi’s hand was damaged because he does not swim very well. Last night we were lucky nobody died.”

Both were taken by police to the local hospital. They suffered heavy bruising and scratches. Pain from a suspected broken rib caused Khalili to speak with difficulty.

He said their fishing bags were stolen, containing money, phones and fishing gear. The two men filed a police report at the hospital, but Khalili said he was hesitant to pursue the matter further.

“I’m afraid to write a complaint to police because a friend [who was attacked previously] complained and was harassed [by police],” he said.

Refugees are told complaints should be made through their immigration case worker. Khalili’s son said they had called the case workers for three days without getting a response.

Violence has become so common in Nauru that messages have been posted in the camps, apparently by Save The Children staff, alerting refugees about potentially dangerous days.

Last month, refugees were warned to stay indoors on the night of the local Australian rules grand final.

“…there will be excessive drinking of alcohol by members of the community. Please be cautious travelling around Nauru on Saturday and stay at home on Saturday night,” the message said.

The Nauruan government did not respond to a request for comment on the police response to complaints and the safety of refugees on the island.



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Last remaining Christmas Island asylum seeker children moved to the mainland

December 24, 2014 | ABC News

The last asylum seeker children being detained on Christmas Island have been moved to the mainland.

The last asylum seeker children being detained on Christmas Island have been moved to the mainland.

The last asylum seeker children being detained on Christmas Island have been moved to the mainland, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says.

Mr Morrison said a total of 194 people in family groups, including 94 children, were transferred on three separate charter flights from Christmas Island over the last week

“These families are now being accommodated at the Bladin Point facility in Darwin while arrangements continue to release them into the community,” he said.

He said it had always been the Government’s policy to place as many children into the community as possible, especially young children.

“The Government has been reducing the number of children in held detention across the country since coming to office,” he said.

The minister said moving the children to the mainland was “consistent with the Government’s commitment following the passage of legislation to resolve Labor’s asylum legacy caseload”.

“A record number of more than 8,000 children arrived on illegal boats under the previous government.

“In July last year a baby was among 18 people who died at sea in attempts to reach Australia illegally by boat.”

He said asylum seekers who are transferred to offshore processing centres will continue to be assessed by the Governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea in line with Australia’s agreements with both countries.


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Hunger striking asylum seeker in Darwin centre instructs that he not be revived

December 19, 2014 | ABC News

An asylum seeker in the 48th day of a hunger strike in a Darwin detention centre gives written instruction that he not be revived if he loses consciousness.

The 33-year-old Iranian detainee at Wickham Point detention centre has not eaten since November 1 because he was denied refugee status.

His lawyer John Lawrence says his client has lost more than 25 kilograms and is rapidly deteriorating.

“He had particularly blood shot eyes, he was weaker,” he said.

“His limited English was abandoned and he used an interpreter.

“He was complaining of aches in his joints and limbs.”

Doctors must seek Immigration permission to force feed

The asylum seeker’s refusal to be revived poses a dilemma for doctors, who legally need a directive from the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office to force feed him.

“If something happened, doctors would wait to hear from the Immigration Department, which of course is problematic on weekends and public holidays, with no-one at Immigration to give directive,” Dr Parker said.

A spokesperson for the Minister for Immigration and Border Security Scott Morrison said it would be inappropriate to comment for privacy reasons.

The President of the Australian Medical Association NT Rob Parker said the symptoms were concerning.

“Well, the fact is if he’s unable to speak [and] he’s getting weakness, that probably indicates a certain degree of organ failure,” he said.

“It probably indicates his brain is not getting the blood sugar and nutrients to function effectively.”

The detainee wrote a note to his lawyer, signed with his name and the number of the boat on which he came, refusing treatment.

“I do not want to break my hunger strike. I do not want to be resuscitated,” he wrote.

“Please resist any attempts to medically treat me should I fall unconscious, or should my wish to refuse treatment be overridden.”


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Asylum seeker babies to stay in Australia under Muir deal

December 18, 2014 | SBS News

Dozens of babies born to asylum seekers will not be sent to Nauru as part of a deal between the government and Senator Ricky Muir.

Thirty-one babies already born to asylum seekers who were transferred from Nauru to Australia before December 4 will be allowed to remain in Australia, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday.

They will have their protection claims assessed as part of the legacy caseload under a deal with Motoring Enthusiasts Party Senator Ricky Muir, whose vote secured the passage of new migration laws through the Senate this month.

In a statement, Mr Morrison said the agreement was a “special one-off arrangement” which will allow the babies and their immediate families to remain in Australia.

“This includes their mothers, fathers and siblings,” he said.

“That is, around 80 family members, all of whom are already in Australia having been transferred from Nauru, for the birth of their child.”

Senator Muir said the announcement should bring relief to some of the affected families.

“I still have concerns for the children and families that are currently on Nauru and Manus Island, ” he said.

“I intend on discussing these concerns… in early 2015.”

But the arrangement will not extend to expecting asylum seekers.

Mr Morrison said pregnant women who had been transferred to Australia but who had not given birth prior to Thursday would be returned to Nauru with their babies.

“Illegal maritime arrivals currently at and being processed at a Regional Processing Centre (RPC) must not think this decision gives them a ticket to Australia,” he said.

“It does not. They will remain and be processed at the RPC.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young welcomed the announcement, but voiced concerns over those not included.

“It’s good that these babies will get to stay in Australia, for now, but I hold grave concerns for the pregnant women, children and families who will be left on Nauru as a result of this deal,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“The other babies and children, who are on Nauru right now, should be brought to Australia immediately.”


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Papua New Guinea approves 50 applications from Manus Island asylum seekers but resettlement delayed

December 17,2 014 | ABC News

Manus Island detention centre

Around 1,000 asylum seekers are being detained at the regional processing centre on Manus Island.

Papua New Guinea has approved 50 refugee applications from the 1,000 men on Manus Island, but is yet to resettle anyone.

PNG’s foreign minister Rimbink Pato said the assessment of asylum applications on Manus Island was going “full speed on every front”.

“Fifty asylum seekers have been determined genuine refugees,” Mr Pato said.

He said the men will be resettled in PNG but that has been delayed by the lack of a policy framework.

Amnesty International has raised concerns about what will happen to those deemed to be refugees.

“Without people actually being released, people are being told ‘yes you’re a refugee’ but they’re still stuck,” said Graham Thom, Amnesty’s refugee coordinator.

“What is going to happen to them and what kind of safety will these people have if they are released into the community?”

While a permanent policy has been under review for months, an interim plan has been announced.

Papua New Guinea will give refugees 12-month bridging visas and help them find jobs but the longer-term prospects for refugees are not clear.

Australia is funding a new immigration detention centre near Port Moresby that PNG officials say is for asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected and are being deported.

There have been no reports, so far, of negative assessments.

Julie Bishop thanks PNG government

The detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island and the resettlement of those found to be refugees in PNG is a major plank of the Australian government’s asylum seeker policy.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who is in PNG for the annual Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, denied Australia had “traded” its right to criticise PNG’s government in return for its cooperation on asylum seekers.

“I don’t believe that we have traded any rights in relation to this matter,” Ms Bishop told the ABC.

“The issue of boat people paying people smugglers to travel to Australia is a regional one. PNG is playing its part as part of the Bali Process [the regional co-operation framework on people smuggling].

“Other countries are also supporting Australia in different ways and PNG has agreed to take some people who are deemed to be refugees.

“Of course, under the Refugee Convention, ‘safe haven’ doesn’t mean you get to choose the economy or the nation where you want to end up.”

Ms Bishop thanked the PNG government for its announcement on refugee approvals and said the two countries were working “in partnership, as we always have”.

“We are the closest of neighbours and the dearest of friends and I think today’s ministerial meeting certainly underscored the level of co-operation on so many fronts.”

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister David Johnston and Justice Minister Michael Keenan also took part in the ministerial talks.


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Resurgent Taliban targets Afghan Hazara as Australia sends them back

December 17, 2014 | the guardian


Juma, a Hazara man, standing on his ancestral lands. In the background is the mountains where his daughter froze to death while they hid from the Taliban in a 1998 attack. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

In Afghanistan, more and more Hazara are preparing to flee a resurgent Taliban, just as Australia has started returning Hazara asylum seekers. Another is being deported on Wednesday.

It was midnight in Ghor when the Taliban appeared on the road in the headlights of the minivans, waving at the vehicles to stop.

There were 20 men on the road, carrying Kalashnikovs. Nearby stood a truck, stopped earlier by the same men, now fully ablaze.

The Taliban boarded the buses and ordered everybody off.

By the light of the burning vehicle they checked everyone’s face against the ID they carried.

The 13 Hazara – easily distinguished by their facial features – were roughly moved into a separate line. They were marched away into the darkness and shot.

The victims had been travelling to Kabul for Eid, to celebrate the end of Ramadan with their families. Among the dead was a child and a couple married only a few days earlier, travelling to their honeymoon.

Fatima’s husband died in the darkness on the side of the road that night. “Life is very hard after I lost my husband … the night is night but the day is also like night for me,” she tells Guardian Australia from her home in Kabul. She wipes tears from her eyes with the hem of her chador.

Hazara woman Fatima, whose husband was killed by Taliban insurgents in a roadside attack this year. Her family has been left destitute by his death. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

Hazara woman Fatima

Hazara woman Fatima, whose husband was killed by Taliban insurgents in a roadside attack this year. Her family has been left destitute by his death. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

“What was his crime to be killed that way? He was just bringing some food to the table for his children.”

Fatima and her six children have been left destitute following her husband’s death.

She cannot afford to send them to school. Her 12-year-old son finds work on the streets to feed the family.

“My heart aches when I look at other fathers who cuddle their children on the street. I hear them call ‘daddy’. But my children don’t have a father. I have a little four-year-old boy who used to hang on his father’s shoulder all the time. He always asks me ‘where is my father?’”

Afghanistan, which for generations has known only the brutal, grinding waste of war, is as dangerous as it has ever been.

Over 13 years the presence of hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers brought no peace to a benighted land.

And their withdrawal has left a power vacuum that is being filled by whomever is most brutal and most ruthless.

Afghanistan’s ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Hazara of the country’s central plains, again face persecution.

“Hazara are being killed because of their ethnicity right across the country,” Mohammad Musa Mahmoudi, executive director of Afghanistan Independent Human Rights says. “It has happened several times.”

The enmity is ancient, and runs deep. Hazara are Shia muslims, “kafirs” (infidels) to the Sunni Taliban. “Hazara are not Muslim. Killing them is not a sin,” Mullah Manan Niazi, the Taliban governor of Mazar-e-Sharif, said in a public address to his followers.

In 1998 Taliban extremists drove Hazara in their thousands from the city into the surrounding Koh-e-baba mountains.

Eight thousand were slaughtered, while others died in the cold of the hills. Hazara farmer Juma was one of those who fled, as the Taliban burned down his village. His eight-year-old daughter froze to death as he held her.

“Many people were killed in the caves and the mountains when they were caught by the Taliban.”

This year, for the first time since the war in Afghanistan began, Australia has started deporting Hazara asylum seekers back to their country, arguing it is safe for them to return.

The Australian government concedes it is not safe for them to live in their villages, or to travel the roads to their homelands controlled by the Taliban and impassable. But it says it is safe for Hazara in the capital, Kabul.

On Wednesday, Australia is due to forcibly deport a third Afghan Hazara this year when 33-year-old Faiz (not his real name) will be put on a plane bound for Kabul with a clutch of guards.

Once there, the guards will leave him on the streets of the city he fled more than two years ago.

Faiz was a farm worker from Jaghori district who says he was kidnapped twice by the Taliban and impressed into forced labour before being released.

He says he was told by a Talib he was believed to be a spy for the Americans, and warned he was on his last chance.

Last year, the Australian government’s assessment process found Faiz was not a refugee requiring Australia’s protection, and that it was safe for him to return.

But the Refugee Council of Australia has briefed immigration department officials that the government’s knowledge of the security situation in Afghanistan was out of date, and that it is not safe to send any Hazara back.

The first Afghan Hazara to be returned, Zainullah Naseri, was deported in August. Three weeks later he was stopped by the Taliban at a roadside checkpoint on the way to his home district of Jaghori, in the central province of Ghazni.

Naseri was captured and chained up, beaten and tortured, while his captors negotiated a ransom for his release. He fled after two days, using a rock to smash the chains that held his feet, and escaping through the crude sewerage system. He is now living, still in hiding, on the streets of the capital.

Zainullah Naseri

The first Afghan Hazara to be returned by Australia, Zainullah Naseri, was deported in August. He was captured by the Taliban, chained up, beaten and tortured. Photograph: Abdul Karim Hekmat for the Guardian

Another Hazara man, Australian-Afghan Sayed Habib Musawi, who returned home to see his grandchildren, was pulled off a bus at a similar illegal Taliban checkpoint, on a nearby road between Jaghori and Kabul. He was tortured before being shot and his body was dumped on the side of the road.

Faiz is from the same Jaghori district as Zainullah and Sayed. All the roads between Kabul and Jaghori are controlled by the Taliban.

At least another six Hazara men have been “redetained” by Australian authorities, in anticipation of their expected deportation in the new year.

From 1 January to 30 June, the United Nations documented 4,853 civilian casualties in Afghanistan, a 24% rise compared with 2013, when casualties in turn were 14% higher than in 2012.

Suicide attacks in Afghanistan’s cities have risen 68%, and women and the young are particularly at risk. A third of the civilians killed this year have been children.

Australia’s ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan, told the security council in September: “We have seen an increase in civilian casualties … recent attacks involving large numbers of fighters are a particularly worrying trend.”

Benjamin Lee, a former human rights lawyer for the UN in Afghanistan, says the withdrawal of foreign troops has left a chasmic power vacuum in Afghanistan.

“This has changed the war’s dynamics. Afghan security forces are now clashing with Taliban and other insurgent groups in villages, in communities, in populated areas,” Lee says. “Mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades, heavy and small arms fire, improvised bombs, characterise these exchanges, and the impact on civilians is tragically predictable.”

The Taliban are moving away from the patient guerrilla tactics of their war of attrition with the overwhelming might of the US. The Taliban fight in the streets now. More people now die from gunfire than bombs.

“This is an emboldened Taliban, this is changes in territorial control, this is a consequence of the withdrawal of a lot of the advanced technological equipment that international forces had available to them, particularly aircraft,” Lee says.

“Particular ethnic groups, including the Hazara, have been disproportionately targeted, but the point I would convey is that it’s simply not safe to send anyone back, regardless of their ethnicity.”

The Australian government sends deported Afghan Hazaras back to Kabul, arguing the capital is a safe place for them to live, even if the roads to their homelands are under insurgent control and impassable.

Once, that was undoubtedly true. During the war, while western money was still flooding into Afghanistan, Kabul was markedly safer than the rural provinces that surrounded it, or the cities in the restive south. It was far from an oasis of peace, but money and western interests brought with them some measure of security.

But with the drawdown of foreign troops during 2014, Kabul has spiralled into regular violence. In January, a suicide bomber blew a hole in the wall of a Kabul restaurant frequented by westerners. Two gunmen stepped through the hole and opened fire, killing 21 people where they ate.

Two months later the Taliban breached the supposedly-secure Serena hotel, and killed 10 people, including two children. In June, an attack on presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah killed 13 people. And in August, the US sustained its highest-ranking wartime casualty since Vietnam, when two-star Major General Harold Greene was shot dead by a rogue Afghan soldier.

Last month, high-profile female politician Shukria Barakzai (who had run a secret school for girls during the Taliban’s reign) was injured in an attack on her car that killed three civilians.

And last week a suicide bomber killed a German civilian while watching a play being performed at a high school in Kabul.

“Taken together, these Kabul attacks,” Lee argues, “demonstrate that restaurants, hotels, even the streets aren’t safe. When the top foreign military brass can’t be protected, where does that leave the Afghan civilians we are returning?”

A connection to the west, or a perceived sympathy for it, makes anyone a target, but particularly a member of a minority.

Zainullah Naseri’s ethnicity drew the Taliban’s attention, but it was the Australian driver’s licence they found in his pocket that made him a person worth capturing.

Hazara embraced the nascent democracy of post-2001 Afghanistan, in response to the brutal oppression they had faced during the Taliban rule.

During the next decade of foreign intervention, thousands found work as interpreters for western forces, or truck drivers for the government. Their children could again go to school, enrol in university or take public service jobs.

But in 2014 the Hazara no longer have the protection of the wealthy, powerful forces that once employed them, and find themselves again the target of a resurgent Taliban.

“If the Taliban come back,” says Abdul Khaliq Azad from the Afghan Strategic and Peace Studies in Kabul, “they would annihilate the Hazara because of their staunch support for the foreign presence in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban are back. So Hazara are leaving. Dozens of Hazara in Kabul tell Guardian Australia they are preparing to leave Afghanistan, by legal means or otherwise.

Supply and demand works in trafficking too. The people smugglers’ price for a ticket to Indonesia has halved in recent months, from $12,000 to $6,000, as entire families – not just single men of working age – decide to leave. Many have ambitions of ultimately reaching Australia.

People in Kabul are aware of Australia’s “stop the boats” policy, under which unauthorised vessels are forcibly turned around, or asylum seekers removed to Nauru and PNG.

Many are discouraged, some are not.

The thousands of Hazara leaving this place are trying to get anywhere, be that Australia, or Indonesia, or Europe. They just know they have to leave.

Najibullah Naseri is from the same village as Zainullah (though no relation). He is stuck in Kabul, unable to get home, and feeling increasingly constricted in the capital. Every day the Taliban feel a little closer.

“I have not seen my family in Jaghori for one-and-a-half years. So what’s the point of living here?”

He is preparing to leave, looking for a route, any route, that will take him out of the country. “If the Afghan government can’t provide security for us, we should free ourselves, before we are killed here.”


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Hazara asylum seeker fears for life if forceably returned, say refugee advocates

December 15, 2014 | the age

Protesters say a Hazara asylum seeker faces death if returned.Protesters say a Hazara asylum seeker faces death if returned.

Refugee advocates say they fear a Victorian Hazara asylum seeker will be killed when the Federal Government sends him back to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

More than 150 Hazara and refugee advocates protested against his deportation outside the Immigration Department’s Melbourne offices on Sunday holding placards such as “no return is safe” and “Hazarans face genocide”.

Gulistan, 33, will be the third Hazara, and the first from Victoria, to be sent back to war-torn Afghanistan since forced removals began in August.

Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said DFAT advice that Afghanistan was now safe was incorrect and that it was more dangerous than ever for Hazara.

“The strategy seems to be to pick Hazaras out at random and then issue them with a letter and send them back,” she said

Ms Curr said the first man to be sent back, Zainullah, was captured and tortured by the Taliban within weeks of his return before he subsequently escaped.

The second, Abduallah, is trapped in Kabul unable to make the journey back to his family in Jaghori out of fear he would be killed en route on a road known as the “highway to hell”.

Australian citizen Sayed Habib Musawi, who went back to Jaghori in September to visit family, was pulled off a bus on his way and shot by Taliban militants.

Protest organiser David Ahmadi said Gulistan had been living in Dandenong for three years before he was detained at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre last week.

“If they deport him, he will have to take the exact same route back to his village,” he said.

Mr Ahmadi said about 100 more Hazara in Victoria, who also had made unsuccessful refugee applications, faced the same fate.

“The murder of Sayed Habib and the torture of Zainullah occurred in the precise manner that these men facing removal have been saying would happen to them,” he said.

Fairfax Media was asked not to use the men’s last names for their protection.


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