Monthly Archives: March 2015

Another 6 Hazara Passengers Abducted from Herat-Farah Highway

March 17, 2015 | Tolo News

In a fresh and the third incident, at least six more passengers from Hazara ethnic minority have been abducted by armed masked men on the Herat-Farah highway, west Afghanistan on Monday night, officials told TOLOnews.

As the fate of 31 abducted passengers is still unknown, the commander of second unit of 207th Zafar Military Corps, Sayed Hassanullah said Tuesday that the new incident happened in Kanisk area of Farah province.

“A search operation has been started to rescue the abducted people,” he said.

However, unconfirmed reports suggest that four of the abductees were the Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers.

This has been the third incident within 24 days after the unknown armed men kidnapped 31 Hazaras on Kabul-Kandahar highway in Shah Joy district of Zabul followed by abduction of another 10 Hazaras in Ghazni. However, nine of Ghazni abductees were released three hours after the incident but the fate of rest of them is still unknown.

‎Despite the negotiations between the elders of Zabul and alleged abductors, the 31 abductees are yet to be freed, something many blame on newly-emerged Daesh group.

The Zabul abductees are said to be transferred to Khak Afghan district of Zabul where the security forces have killed more than 50 insurgents so far in the operation to rescue the hostages.



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Three Refugees Hospitalised After More Self-Harm And Violence On Nauru

March 17, 2015 | newmatilda

Tensions have once again boiled over on the island of Nauru, amid growing protests and clashes between islanders and refugees. Max Chalmers reports. WARNING: This article contains images of a distressing nature.

At least three refugees living in the community on Nauru were hospitalised overnight after a stone throwing attack knocked a couple off a motorbike, and a young woman attempted suicide in the Anibare camp.

Around 10pm a group of refugees were attacked while riding motorbikes, with a man in his late 20s struck in the head by a rock, causing him to crash the bike and leaving him “badly injured”, according to a friend who visited him in hospital after the incident.

Images of the man show him bleeding heavily from his face.

New Matilda understands both the man and his wife remain in hospital, and that Nauruan police have questioned them, as well as another group of witnesses.

“It’s very common for the locals to throw stones, it happened to my friend last night… it’s common it’s, not something unusual,” one refugee said.

After hearing of the incident refugees and locals gathered at the hospital, with police on hand to prevent conflict between the groups.

In a separate incident that took place a short time after the stone throwing, a young Iranian woman was also left hospitalised after attempting to commit suicide.

Refugees who know the woman told New Matilda she had suffered severe back ache in recent months, preventing her from basic tasks, including shopping and cooking.

They said she had only been offered painkillers, and had become desperate for proper treatment.

One of these friends, who lives on the same block in a different room, had been caring for the woman last night, but was forced outside to make a call.

When she returned, the woman was in the bathroom.

“I call her, are you hearing me, and she didn’t answer me, and I was worried,” the friend, also an Iranian, told New Matilda.

“I opened the door and I saw her… she was bleeding, she was awake.”

“She was lying on the floor, her head was on the toilet, and she was not good, she was, how can I say, her face was completely yellow. She was not feeling good at all.

“I called other friends and I called the ambulance and police and anyone I know.”

According to the friend, Nauruan police arrived first, followed by an ambulance a full hour after the incident took place.

“Everything here is slow. The life here is nothing for them, the refugee, are not important here. No-one care about us,” they said.

The friend accompanied her to Nauru’s only hospital in the ambulance, crying as they travelled.

After being given painkillers, both returned to the Anibare camp in the early hours of Tuesday morning, where the injured woman is now resting.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

An image from Nauru overnight, in which a young woman attempted suicide.

As New Matilda revealed last week, former Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison had been left ‘shit-worried’ after a video informing asylum seekers they would never be settled in Australia caused escalating protests in September last year.

While these concerns related to the situation in the centre, tensions have also been steadily building in the Nauruan community as refugees are processed and released.

Protests have become a regular occurrence, with the Nauruan government issuing restrictions on where they are allowed to take place. Images seen by New Matilda (below) show women and children protesting today, holding banners that read “we are refugee women, we are not attacker” and “stop violence against women and children”.

Refugees are currently negotiating for the right to protest outside the Australian High Commission.

Close to 200 people, including children, were taken into custody after protesting earlier in the month.

Violence against refugees in the community has been regularly reported since released from detention began, including multiple attacks on unaccompanied minors.

According to refugee and human rights law experts, Australia maintains an obligation to refugees resettled on Nauru even after they are released from detention.

The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.


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Omid Ali Avaz, Iranian refugee granted temporary safe haven, found dead

March 14, 2015 | the age

Omid Ali Avaz.

Omid Ali Avaz.

An Iranian refugee – one of the first people to receive one of the Coalition’s new temporary safe haven visas – has been found dead.

Omid Ali Avaz, 29, an Iranian of Kurdish ethnicity, is believed to have taken his own life.

Police at Dutton Park in Brisbane confirmed on Friday that the body of a 29-year-old “deceased immigrant” had been found and an investigation begun. The Queensland coroner has been alerted to Mr Avaz’s apparent suicide.

Mr Avaz left a final voice message asking for a Christian burial. He had been being supported by the Catholic Church’s Romero asylum seeker support service in Dutton Park.

Since arriving in 2011, he had been in detention and community detention on a bridging visa.

During that time he had suffered mental illness and was treated at Brisbane’s private Toowong Private mental hospital after a number of suicide attempts.

According to refugee advocates, Mr Avaz’s health had deteriorated since learning news of the death of his mother.

He had also been concerned about his refugee status. Mr Avaz was assessed as a genuine refugee but, under the Coalition’s rejigged visa system, he was granted a Humanitarian Stay (Temporary) visa, subclass 449, in late February.

Under the new system, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection invites a person to apply for the safe haven visa and decides on the length of the visa period.

Mr Avaz was given 12 months.

The 449 visa, which allows a refugee to work in the community, is a first step to a Humanitarian Concern (Temporary) visa.

“Having these visas does NOT mean Australia accepts you are a refugee. It does mean that Australia has agreed to let you remain here for the length of your visa,” the Department of Immigration states on its website.

Mr Avaz had been supported by Brisbane’s Multicultural Development Association, which is said to be “shocked” at his passing. It referred inquiries to the Immigration Department.

Jeanie Walker, the president of the Australian Democrats in South Australia, who houses Iranian asylum seekers, has issued a press statement, saying she was “horrified” to hear of Mr Avaz’s death.

“His name means ‘hope’, but we gave him none,” she said.

“Omid was not on Manus. He was not even in a detention centre. But the damaging effects of the Abbott government’s punitive policies reach even those asylum seekers living in the community.”


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The secrecy surrounding Australia’s asylum camps

March 12, 2015 | BBC News

Asylum seekers on Manus Island

Very few images have emerged showing conditions on Manus Island

Australia’s policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore facilities, for months, even years, has attracted strong criticism from bodies such as the United Nations. But government secrecy surrounding the operation of these isolated centres means many Australians know little about what life is like for those detained inside.

When journalist Eoin Blackwell needs to find out what’s going on inside Australia’s immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island, he calls his local contacts.

Mr Blackwell doesn’t bother making official inquiries because, in his experience, information or access requests made to the Australian and PNG governments are ignored or forgotten.

“Every request I’ve made with the government to do with Manus has been denied or delayed until it went away,” says Mr Blackwell, a former PNG correspondent for Australian Associated Press.

“One time I tried to get into the centre and the Australian government said it was up to the PNG government and the PNG government said they had to call Canberra. Eventually we were told ‘no’ but no one would say who was telling us no,” says the reporter, expressing the frustration many journalists feel about the secrecy surrounding the centre.

The BBC sent a number of written questions to the Australian Immigration Department for this story but at the time of writing had not received a reply.

No-man’s land

Located in the Bismarck Sea and more than 800km (500 miles) north of the PNG capital Port Moresby – or a 3,500 km, 10-hour flight from Sydney – Manus is one of PNG’s most remote islands.

Few among the 65,000 population have benefitted from the billions of dollars successive Australian governments have spent converting a navy base into a no-man’s land for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.


Journalists outside PNG can’t enter Manus Island without a visa and approval from PNG’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, but permission is rarely given. Following Mr Blackwell’s departure in 2013, there was only one Australian media correspondent left in PNG, the ABC’s Liam Fox.

The Australian government, under former Prime Minister John Howard, set up the detention centre on Manus Island in 2001 as part of its so-called Pacific Solution to detain asylum seekers offshore while their refugee status was determined.

Manus was closed in 2008 by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd but was reopened by his successor Julia Gillard in late 2011.

The difficulty of finding out what is going on in the centre was highlighted in early 2014 when riots broke out inside its gates. More than 60 asylum seekers were injured and 23 year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed.

Conflicting reports soon emerged from government and refugee sources about exactly what took place.

People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Sydney on 23 February 2014.

Reza Berati’s death in February 2014 at Manus Island prompted protests from activists

It wasn’t until May last year that an independent report by Australian former senior public servant Robert Cornall found Mr Berati had died after he was clubbed over the head by a locally-engaged Salvation Army employee.

A year later, conflicting stories emerged about a fresh round of hunger strikes and self-harm at the centre. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton blamed refugee advocates for encouraging asylum seekers to protest.

‘Pit of human misery’

Despite the wall of secrecy, Mr Blackwell, who is now based in Sydney with AAP, has visited Manus Island five times.

He paints a grim picture of what life is like for more than 1,000 male asylum seekers in a centre now infamous for two detainee deaths (in September another Iranian refugee died from septicaemia after cutting his foot), describing hot, harsh conditions, malaria, overcrowding, poor hygiene, riots, hunger strikes, mental illness and water shortages.

The reporter gained entry to the centre in March last year when he accompanied a PNG Supreme Court judge who was doing an inspection as part of a human rights case.

“Foxtrot (one of four Manus compounds) was a pit of human misery,” Mr Blackwell recalls.

“The refugees live in shipping containers, there’s water everywhere, lights not working, the heat is oppressive, no windows. There was a (detainee) with a bandage over his eye… asking for help in this stinking, hot compound.”

File photo: A man walking between tents at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Conditions in the camps have been criticised by NGOs and the UN

Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul says he relies on first-hand, eyewitness reports from people inside the centre, as well as video and images supplied by detainees and staff via mobile phones.

But he says after this year’s hunger strike, an estimated 40 to 50 mobile phones were seized in a security crackdown.

“Since the hunger strike, [authorities] have mounted CCTV cameras all through the centre,” says Mr Rintoul.

“In some compounds, guards wear cameras on their uniforms. There are routine patrols in the yard and the rooms. Staff are checked with security wands on the way in and out.”

Mr Rintoul claims the Australian government doesn’t want the public to know what is really going on inside the centre.

“That is why journalists and mobile phones are excluded. But when the footage comes out they can’t maintain the pretence,” he says.


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UN accuses Australia of systematically violating torture convention

March 10, 2015 | the guardian

Tony Abbott reacts angrily to report criticising Australia’s detention policies, saying Australians are ‘sick of being lectured to by the United Nations’.

Nauru children asylum seekers protest on Australia Day Nauru children asylum seekers protest on Australia Day. The UN has found that their detention breaches the Convention Against Torture. Photograph: Supplied

Australia is systematically violating the international Convention Against Torture by detaining children in immigration detention, and holding asylum seekers in dangerous and violent conditions on Manus Island, a United Nations report has found.

But the prime minister, Tony Abbott, reacted angrily to the scathing findings, saying Australians were “sick of being lectured to by the United Nations”.

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, has investigated allegations of torture and abuse of 68 countries, in a report to be delivered to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

The section on Australia is concerned entirely with the treatment of asylum seekers in immigration detention.

“The government of Australia, by failing to provide adequate detention conditions; end the practice of detention of children; and put a stop to the escalating violence and tension at the regional processing centre, has violated the right of the asylum seekers including children to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” Mendez’s report said.

Two asylum seekers on Manus Island, referred to as Mr A and Mr B, allege they were tied to chairs by security staff and threatened with “physical violence, rape, and prosecution for ‘becoming aggressive’” if they refused to retract statements they had made to police about the murder of Reza Barati during detention centre riots.

Mendez’s report found those men’s rights were also breached.

“The rapporteur concludes that there is substance in the allegations presented in the initial communication, reiterated above, and thus, that the government of Australia, by failing to provide any additional information or details of the investigation into Mr A’s and Mr B’s allegations, has violated their right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”


And Mendez found that two government amendments to immigration legislation both risk violating international law prohibiting torture.

“The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment … violates the Convention Against Torture because it allows for the arbitrary detention and refugee determination at sea, without access to lawyers. The Migration Amendment (Character and General Visa Cancellation Bill) violates the CAT because it tightens control on the issuance of visas on the basis of character and risk assessments.”

When asked about the report on Monday, Abbott said the UN’s representatives “would have a lot more credibility if they were to give some credit to the Australian government” for stopping dangerous boat journeys by asylum seekers.

“I really think Australians are sick of being lectured to by the United Nations, particularly given that we have stopped the boats, and by stopping the boats, we have ended the deaths at sea,” the prime minister said during a media conference in Western Australia.

“The most humanitarian, the most decent, the most compassionate thing you can do is stop these boats because hundreds, we think about 1,200 in fact, drowned at sea during the flourishing of the people smuggling trade under the former government.

“The best thing you can do to uphold the universal decencies of mankind, the best thing that you can do to ensure that the best values of our world are realised is to stop the boats and that’s exactly what we have done.”

Asked again whether he accepted the UN’s findings about Manus Island, Abbott said the conditions were “reasonable under all the circumstances” and “all of the basic needs of the people on Manus Island are being met”.

“Everyone’s needs for food, for clothing, for shelter, for safety are being more than met, thanks to the good work of the PNG government, the Australian government and the people who are running the centre,” he said.

Abbott’s criticism of the UN follows his claim the Australian Human Rights Commission, in particular its president, professor Gillian Triggs, acted in a “blatantly partisan” way with its inquiry into children in immigration detention.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, has also been contacted for comment on the UN report.

The 31-year-old United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is one of the most widely-supported conventions in the world. Some 157 countries are parties to the convention.

Australia ratified the treaty in 1989, and is legally bound by it.

The director of legal advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, said the UN report confirmed that Australia’s offshore processing policy was failing to meet basic human rights standards, and that new legislation would risk further breaches of international law.

“Under international law, Australia can’t lock people up incommunicado on a boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Nor can we return people to a place where they face the risk of being tortured. Yet these are precisely the powers the government has sought to give itself through recent amendments to its maritime law.”

Australia relied on international law and to protect its own interests, Webb said.

“So it’s incredibly short-sighted for the government to start thumbing its nose at the UN system just because it doesn’t like what it’s being told.”

Ben Pynt from Humanitarian Research Partners said the government was simply attempting to sweep torture allegations “under the rug”.

“The prime minister has attempted to discredit the special rapporteur on torture in the same way as he attacked Professor Triggs, as biased and disreputable. What he did not do is counter the evidence provided or in any way attempt to disprove the allegations of torture, which the global authority on torture found to be substantiated.”

The special rapporteur’s report addresses allegations of torture and inhumane treatment in 68 countries. It criticises, as well, the United States for holding a mentally ill man on death row for 30 years, and raises concerns with the UK over several proposed deportations.

Papua New Guinea did not respond to inquiries from the UN over its handling of the Manus detention centre.

Australia is currently actively lobbying for a seat on the Human Rights Council, in the ballot to take place in 2017.

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop told Fairfax Australia’s bid was “consistent with our nation’s history of promoting and protecting human rights”.

“We abide by our international obligations and we are confident that our experience and our commitment to human rights protection and promotion makes us a strong contender for the UNHRC.”

Shadow minister for immigration Richard Marles described the prime minister’s attack as “absurd”.

“Instead of launching a cheap attack on the report’s author, Tony Abbott should be providing an assurance that all the processing facilities Australia funds are run in a safe, humane and proper manner.”

The last Labor government re-opened the Manus Island detention centre in November 2012.

In response to the Prime Minister’s comments, special rapporteur Mendez told ABC radio the UN Human Rights Council – to which Australia is seeking election – was only doing its job.

“I’m sorry that he considers what we do lecturing. We don’t, we think it’s our role,” Mendez said.

“We treat every country the same way. We just try to uphold international standards as we understand them.”

Mendez said he paid credit to Australia for its “robust, democratic system with guarantees of human rights for everybody”.

“But it is my mission, my duty, to point out when any country, including Australia, falls short of its obligations under international law.”

He said the lengthy, arbitrary detention of asylum seekers, simply because they had arrived by boat, was “not a good course of action”.

Mendez is professor of international law at the American University, and was formerly special adviser to the prosecutor of the international criminal court.

In his native Argentina, he represented political prisoners against the military dictatorship and was himself targeted by the regime.

Mendez was arrested and tortured – including with electric shocks and having the barrel of a gun put in his mouth – and was detained for 18 months. He was ultimately expelled from Argentina.


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