Monthly Archives: October 2015

Doctors step up fight to free children in immigration detention, citing mental and physical health concerns

October 30, 2015 | ABC News

Doctors in Melbourne rallied against holding children in detention earlier this month

Doctors in Melbourne rallied against holding children in detention earlier this month

Australia’s medical community is increasing pressure on the Federal Government to remove children from immigration detention, as more doctors come forward citing significant mental health concerns.

Paediatricians and other health workers are due to gather in Darwin, Adelaide and Sydney today to call on the Turnbull Government to remove all children and their families from immigration detention.

Paediatrician Joshua Francis told the ABC that it was clear that detention was harmful to children and to their families.

Dr Francis said he had treated children living in detention, who had presented with “significant psychological problems and very real impacts on their development”.

“We’re trying to deal with them on a situation here these children are living essentially in jail like environments in detention centres,” he said.

“It’s heartbreaking for me, not just as a paediatrician, but also as a father.”

Dr Francis said he would personally treat the issue on a case-by-case basis, but did not rule out refusing to discharge patients back into immigration detention.

Comment has been sought from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

The action follows that taken by Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital earlier this month, when almost 1,000 doctors, nurses and clinical support staff called on the Government to remove children from detention.

The hospital did not deny reports that they were refusing to discharge children in detention, saying it was a matter for “serious discussion” on a case-by-case basis.

The announcement coincides with a joint statement from maternal health groups, highlighting concerns for breastfeeding mothers in immigration detention.

Eight organisations, including the Australian Breastfeeding Organisation, said asylum seeker mothers needed appropriate support to continue breastfeeding including ensuring that mother and child are kept together if one needs medical treatment.



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Man dies at Brisbane airport

October 30, 2105 | brisbane times

Refugee advocates say an Iranian man endured months of depression before he died at Brisbane Airport.

Refugee advocates say an Iranian man endured months of depression before he died at Brisbane Airport. Photo: Michelle Smith

A young Iranian man took his own life at the Brisbane airport on Tuesday, after what refugee advocates believe was months of depression and despair.

Supporters told Fairfax Media the man, thought to be either 25 or 26 years old, had travelled to Brisbane recently, after his release from a Melbourne hospital.

They said he was met by police at the airport and placed in a hotel, which he later left, returning to the airport in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and suicided.

A Queensland Police spokeswoman confirmed officers attended a non-suspicious sudden death at the Brisbane Airport on Tuesday and a report was being prepared for the Coroner.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said the Queensland Police Service were the lead agency on the investigation.

The Immigration department was contacted for comment late on Wednesday night, when Fairfax Media first learnt of the death.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection.responded on Thursday: “This is a matter for Queensland Police please direct your enquiry to them.”

Refugee advocates in both Brisbane and Melbourne had heard of the death, claiming the man had been attempting to seek help for mental health issues when he was discharged from the Royal Melbourne Hospital last week.

Investigations are continuing


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Australian officials paid asylum seeker boat crew, Amnesty investigation alleges

October 29. 2015 | the guardian

A masked Indonesian crew member of an alleged people-smuggling boat is put on display behind a table of US dollar notes at a press conference on Rote Island in June.

 A masked Indonesian crew member of an alleged people-smuggling boat is put before the media alongside a table of US dollar notes at a press conference on Rote Island in June. The money was allegedly given to the crew of the boat by an Australian official to bring migrants back to Indonesia. Photograph: Indonesian police/EPA

Australian government officials may have engaged in people smuggling, by allegedly paying the crew of an asylum seeker boat to return its passengers to Indonesia, an Amnesty International investigation has found.

In May this year, the 65 passengers and six crew of an asylum seeker boat bound for New Zealand said they were intercepted by an Australian naval ship and an Australian Border Force vessel in international waters.

Australian government officials on board reportedly paid the crew of the vessel $32,000 – in US $100 bills – and instructed them to return the asylum seekers to Indonesia, directing them to Rote Island.

After interviewing all 65 passengers who were on board the ship, as well as the six crew and Indonesian officials, the Amnesty report press release concluded “all of the available evidence points to Australian officials having committed a transnational crime”.

On Thursday the immigration minister Peter Dutton said the government had already rejected the report’s allegations.

“To suggest otherwise, as Amnesty has done, is to cast a slur on the men and women of the Australian Border Force and Australian Defence Force.”

Anna Shea, a researcher on refugee and migrant rights with Amnesty UK, said evidence showed government officials were allegedly paying a boat crew, providing fuel and materiel, and giving instructions on where the boat should be sailed.

“People smuggling is a crime usually associated with private individuals, not governments – but here we have allegations that Australian officials are not just involved, but directing operations.

“When it comes to its treatment of those seeking asylum, Australia is becoming a lawless state.”

Australian officials reportedly intercepted the asylum seeker boat twice, on 17 May and 22 May.

Those on board said the ship was well-equipped and that no distress signal was sent at any time. The crew said the boat never entered Australian waters and had enough food and fuel on board to reach New Zealand.

In the second interdiction, the majority of asylum seekers boarded the Australian Border Force ship after allegedly being told they could bathe on board.

Once on board, however, they said they were held in cells for several days, before they were transferred to two smaller boats and instructed to sail for the island of Rote. One boat ran out of fuel, forcing all of its passengers onto the other. That boat foundered on a reef at Landu Island, near Rote, from where locals rescued the passengers.

On the original boat, the six crew claimed Australian officials gave them $32,000 – two of the men received $6,000, four $5,000 – in exchange for the crew agreeing to pilot the boat back to Indonesia.

One asylum seeker told Amnesty he allegedly witnessed a transaction between Australian officials and the ship’s captain in the kitchen of the boat, and saw the captain put a white envelope in his shorts pocket.

Shea told the Guardian the 62 passengers from the vessel were interviewed, as a group, on three separate occasions in Indonesian immigration detention in Kupang in West Timor, where they are currently being held.

The six crew, who are in police custody on Rote Island, were interviewed separately to the passengers.

“What was really remarkable was the degree of correlation and consistency in the testimony of the asylum seekers and the crew, who were held in different locations, and who were not in communication,” Shea said.

Indonesian police have reported they found $32,000 is US $100 bills on the crew. Amnesty researchers photographed the money confiscated.


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The death of Khodayar Amini

October 24, 2015 | Abdul Hekmat for the saturday paper

In the three years before his suicide, Hazara asylum seeker Khodayar Amini says he was twice assaulted by police and was the victim of continual harassment.

Khodayar Amini

Khodayar Amini

On Thursday night, October 15, Khodayar Amini was preparing to cook for his five roommates in a suburb of Western Sydney. The phone rang, and he listened to his friend on the other end of the line. Australian Border Force had just raided his old address, about 10 kilometres away. Six officers had blocked the doors and windows and searched every room, checking the identity of the four people inside. They said they were looking for Amini’s new address.

The news shook him. He had already provided the immigration department with his new address but his encounters with Border Force made him nervous. Fearing that immigration officers would come and take him back to detention, the Hazara asylum seeker walked out into the night, leaving his belongings behind. “I don’t have other option. I have to run. I don’t want to go back in detention centre. I have suffered a lot there,” he told his friend. “They killed my best friend, Nasim Najafi.”

Amini fled the state, reaching Dandenong in south-east Melbourne, where he hid out in nearby bushland. Within three days he would be dead. He made a final phone call to two refugee advocates and while talking to them set himself alight. When police found his body, it was in a circle of scorched earth the size of a small room. He was 30.

The day before he died Amini had written in Farsi to one of the refugee advocates, Michelle Bui. Again he mentioned his friend Mohammad Nasim Najafi, who died in the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre outside Perth in July, and two others who had committed suicide. Amini had shared a room with Najafi at Yongah Hill.

“I, Khodayar Amini, write the following few sentences with my blood for those apathetic so called human beings,” he wrote. “Yes they did this to me, with slogans of humanity, sentenced me to death. My crime was that I was a refugee. They tortured me for 37 months and during all these times they treated me in the most cruel and inhumane way. They violated my basic human right and took away my human dignity with their false and so called humane slogans. They killed me as well as many of my friends such as: Nasim Najafi, Reza Rezayee and Ahmad Ali Jaffari. They were my friends and their crime was that they had sought asylum in Australia.

“I write this statement with my blood for those who call themselves human beings, I ask you to stand up for the rights of refugees and stop people being killed just because they have become refugees. Humanity is not a slogan; every human being has the right to live. Living shouldn’t be a crime anymore. Red Cross, Immigration and the Police killed me with their slogans of humanity and cruel treatments.”

Feared for his life

Khodayar Amini made the journey to Australia by boat in September 2012. He was one of 86 asylum seekers on a tiny vessel whose engine quit working, and was rescued by the navy after hours floundering in the ocean. Thirty-one of the asylum seekers were taken to Nauru but Amini was taken to Christmas Island and then to a detention centre in Darwin. After five months, he was released into the community on a bridging visa without rights to work, travel or study. The Red Cross was put in charge of his care.

The story Amini tells from here is one of confusion and mistreatment. Twice, he says, he was beaten by police officers. Once so badly that the pain of his injuries persisted for two years. He says he was harassed by police and immigration officials. In early 2014, he was returned to detention for 11 months after an argument with the Department of Transport, Travel and Motoring in South Australia over a small licence fee refund, but was released after a court found him innocent of misconduct. The uncertainty of his visa, the fear of being deported back to Afghanistan, wore away at his mental health. He felt unrepresented and helpless. He became convinced he would die.

“Asylum seekers might be in the community but it’s virtually impossible to recover and to feel safe,” says Louise Newman, a professor of psychiatry at Monash University. “When people have the ongoing fear – whether it’s fear of being sent home or fear of being re-detained and lack of certainty about their future – their trauma persists. They don’t know what awaits them. And they become fearful every day, and it could affect their daily life, like they can’t eat or they can’t sleep. And they become agitated. People in that state are much afraid. They feel that they have no escape from the things that are tormenting them.”

She continues: “One of the most appalling things about the Australian government response to the needs of asylum seekers is that it allows this to happen. We allow it to happen and I am saying it quite strongly: that we don’t do anything to prevent it, which is preventable.”

In the last two months of his life, Amini started writing accounts of his treatment. The notes are appeals for justice, but they are laced with fear of the system to which he appeals.

“I am scared they plan to kill me with any wrong accusation,” he wrote in one. “I feel that the police come to my house at night and have a plan to kill me. I can’t sleep at night because I fear the police would kill me. I am extremely scared. I feel every moment they would kill me. What in 2013, they hit me so hard that still feel the pain from that time.”

His three-page handwritten letter was in a mixture of formal Farsi and Hazaragi dialect. At the end of the last page, he added a note.

“Translation of this will be hard because I don’t have adequate literacy and no one has helped me. If there is any place, the translator did not understand, call me and I will explain verbally.” He copied out his mobile number, and signed in a script that is earnest and hopeful: “Khodayar Amini.”

Untreated health issues

After being released from his second stint in detention, again on a bridging visa, Amini moved to Adelaide and then to Sydney. He set up in a house with other asylum seekers, including a friend who had travelled to Australia on the same boat as him.

His friends noted changes in his physical and mental health. He developed a persistent cough, for which he was hospitalised several times. The cough continued through the night and in order not to wake his roommates he would wrap himself with blankets and sit up all night in the lounge room.

It seems his medical condition was not properly diagnosed, nor his mental health. Three months ago, he called the Red Cross, which is contracted by the government to provide assistance to asylum seekers in the community. His insistence that he receive medical assistance got him into an argument over the phone with a staff member. The incident was referred to police and he was charged with making threatening comments.

“Four officers came to my home,” he wrote in an account of what followed. “They said that they were trying to search the house. They did not search and asked if you have a gun. I asked them ‘What you are saying?’ They pointed to their pistol and I said ‘No.’ They handcuffed me. They searched my body. They searched two times my shoes. Then they moved to police station. When we’re going down through elevator, I coughed and they said ‘alcohol?’ I said ‘no’. I told them that I was sick and it is not in my hands. They punched with fist and knee and took me inside police station. They tortured me. I was there for about 5 and 6 hours. They forced me to give interview.”

At time of press, New South Wales Police had not responded to Amini’s claims of brutality.

Amini’s solicitor, Besmellah Rezaee, said Amini had no intention to kill or threaten anybody. Amini was planning to appear in court on November 10 and believed he would win the case. “He told me words to the effect, ‘They kill with cotton’, and stated that he used this expression out of frustration and extreme depression and this was interpreted as having made a threat to kill,” Rezaee said. “He went on to say, ‘How on earth would a helpless and despairing person like me make such a threat against person of authority and power? I fled killing and am seeking protection to save my life – how can I intend to take someone else’s life?’ ” The expression “kill with cotton” is a Hazaragi phrase; it means to kill someone slowly.

“My heart ached”

The Saturday Paper has spoken to Amini’s friends and roommates, some of whom had known him for three years. They described him as “a good guy” with no threatening behaviours, and said he was getting along with everyone very well. He was deeply frustrated by the claims made against him.

Increasingly, Amini had become reserved with personal information. His roommates say he was guarded, staying mostly at home, not going out with them; he was awake all night and frequently listened to melancholic songs of Ahmad Zahir, a popular Afghan singer. He gave up his belief in God. “I don’t believe in God,” he said. “I think Tony Abbot [is] God for refugee. [He] killed my best friend. Why? Why?”

Before leaving Sydney for Dandenong, Amini went to a Hazara community centre in Sydney asking for advice and help. “Can you stop the immigration for taking me back to detention centre?” Amini asked Abdul Alizada, from the Kateb Hazara Association. “They were behind my door, wanting to take to detention centre. I am too scared to go there. I don’t want to be deported back to Afghanistan.”

Alizada told him that it was beyond his power to stop immigration but he could write a support letter stating that he was of good character. “I can’t stop immigration from taking you nor I can hide you,” Alizada said, “but I can support by writing a letter.” They talked for about 45 minutes. Alizada said he saw no sign of depression or distress and found Amini “very elaborate”.

On Monday, when Alizada learnt Amini had set himself on fire, he was devastated. “I have a bad feeling that I can’t express it in words,” he said, his voice quivering. “I failed to help him.”

His friends feel the same: “He was a very nice guy. My heart ached when I heard about him. I have not slept for few nights.”

Amini recently launched a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against mistreatment by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. A letter was sent to him on October 15, but it was already too late. “In order to progress your complaint,” it read, “please sign and return the Authority to Release Information and/or document form by Thursday October 22, 2015.”

What’s our crime?”

No one knows why Amini took his life. The notes he wrote in the last months of his life show a man persecuted by a system of uncertainty, terrified he would be deported, deeply mistrusting of authority. They show a man lost and uncertain where to find help.

“Are there rule of law, social justice and human dignity in this country?” he wrote in one. “If there is, why your behaviour is in contradictory to human rights? In 2014, the Adelaide police mistreated me because I was asking for the refund of my $32 [from Transport, Travel and Motoring]. Then, I was harassed, incarcerated, taken to court, tortured for 11 months inside immigration detention centre. What was my crime? How your treatment is different from the treatment of the Taliban and Daesh? For three years, you have tortured me in every way. What do you want from us? What’s our crime? In your view, we are not human beings.”

When he left the house for the last time, he told no one where he was going. A day before his self-immolation, he called his friends in the house and told them that he was still looking for a place but had found none. They heard nothing more.

On the night Amini left home, he sent Michelle Bui a text message: “Hi Michelle, are you free now. I want to talk to you. Very important.”

Bui spoke to Amini on the phone and he told her he was in a car hiding in the bush but did not disclose his whereabouts. He said he feared going back to detention.

On Saturday, Amini switched off his mobile phone. “The police and immigration check my mobile phone,” he said. “I think it’s off better.”

On Sunday morning, about 10am, Bui received a text message from Amini. It read: “I want to cut my life.” Bui tried to dissuade him and enlisted the help of another advocate from the Refugee Rights Action Network, Sarah Ross. Ross had experience in suicide prevention.

Bui and Ross called Amini on Facebook video chat. Amini showed them a petrol container. He poured it over himself. Again, they heard him repeating that immigration was trying to kill him. “We pleaded with him not to do it,” Bui said. “We then heard the lighter flick and saw flames. Sarah threw the phone on the ground so we didn’t see it. Obviously at this stage we both got very emotional. We heard the flames but we didn’t hear any screams or sounds from him.”

It was Monday before his friends heard of the death. Amini’s roommates were awake for nights, mourning him. They missed him, and his cooking. “He was a good cook.” A friend who used to sleep in the same bedroom as Amini said: “I did not believe he died when I heard about him on the news. All night, I lay in my bed in one side and tilted my head towards his empty bed, hoping he would walk every minute to sleep on his bed as usual. But he never did.”


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Losing the plot: the sad tale of refugee Abyan

October 23, 2015 | brisbane times

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

A young, vulnerable and traumatised woman who sought protection in Australia has been very badly let down.

One solitary question was asked in the national Parliament this week about an issue that goes to the heart of Australia’s self-image as the compassionate country of the fair go. It came from the Labor opposition, but could just as easily have been a Dorothy Dixer from a Coalition MP.

“Can the minister please provide the House with information on the government decisions taken in relation to the pregnant Somali asylum seeker who was recently transported between Australia and Nauru?” Richard Marles asked Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

If the opposition, any opposition, has used the word “please” when pressing the government for information in question time, I, for one, am struggling to recall it.

Marles called her an asylum seeker, when in fact she is a refugee who has been found to have a genuine fear of persecution if returned to Somalia. He neglected to mention she was single, with a complicated medical history, and that she maintains the pregnancy is the result of being raped on July 18 after her release from detention on Nauru.

His question was open-ended, rather than focused on why it had taken so long to bring the woman to Australia after she requested an abortion (which is unlawful on Nauru), and why she was returned on a charter flight after just five days, at significant cost.

No wonder Dutton began his response by thanking Marles very much for the question, and “very much for the way he framed the question as well”.

Dutton then set out to counter the claims by lawyer George Newhouse​, that the woman known as Abyan (not her real name) had received totally inadequate treatment since the alleged rape, both on Nauru and during her short stay in Australia.

The minister told how she saw a primary health nurse on arrival in Brisbane on October 11 and how, in subsequent days, her situation was reviewed by a mental health nurse and a GP, usually with an interpreter present, before she said that she did not wish to proceed with the abortion and was returned to Nauru.

But something was lost amid the claim and counter-claim: a young, vulnerable and traumatised woman who sought protection in Australia has been very badly let down by the system, not once but at almost every turn.

What is left is a swag of unanswered questions that go to the heart of the arrangement between the Australian and Nauru governments: Why was Abyan reluctant to report the alleged assault to Nauruan police? What level of care did she receive after the pregnancy was confirmed on August 25, prompting her decision to seek a termination? Why did it take so long for her to be brought to Australia? Why were her only interactions with nurses and a GP (or GPs) in Australia?

The answer to the threshold question, Abyan has told supporters in Australia, is that she feared going to the Nauruan police, did not want anyone to know about the assault and only revealed it when the pregnancy was confirmed.

Her reticence is explained by the experience of a 23-year-old Iranian, whose shocking story was told on ABC TV’s Lateline this week and is a case study in worst practice when it comes to dealing with sexual assault.

The more troubling question is why Abyan was denied access to mental-health and other specialists to help her make an informed decision on the termination in Australia. Why just a GP and a mental-health nurse?
Abyan’s lawyer wanted her to be able to discuss all her options in terms of the termination, with the same level of care afforded to Australian women in similar situations. But Australian officials saw the question of options through a very different prism.
“Her option is to be afforded the treatment, which is what she sought,” is how Michael Pezzullo, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, put it to a Senate committee. “There is no other option available for her in terms of any other basis upon which to stay in Australia.”

The context for this response was offered by Dutton a week earlier, when he declared: “The racket that’s been going on here is that people, at the margins, come to Australia from Nauru, the government’s then injuncted and we can’t send them back to Nauru – and there are over 200 people in that category.”

In Abyan’s case, lawyers did seek an injunction to delay her deportation, but it was all about giving her access to health professionals. It had nothing to do about her seeking to stay permanently in Australia. It was abandoned because she was already on a plane to Nauru.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked many of the right questions during the Senate committee hearing this week, including how Abyan was feeling after being returned to Nauru.

She was told that Abyan was “engaging well” and “in a positive way”, with support and health services on the island, and “talking of her future on Nauru”. This was not the message from Chris Kenny, the Australian journalist, who reported that Abyan was “agitated and distressed” when he knocked on her door and that she still wanted a termination, but no longer in Australia.

Hanson-Young has called on the government to appoint an independent advocate or guardian to represent the interests of Abyan and others in similar situations. It’s a good idea.

There is also a compelling case for asking Philip Moss, who investigated allegations of sexual assault within the processing centre on Nauru and reported in February, to examine how well his recommendations have been implemented.

John Brayley​, the highly regarded inaugural surgeon general of the Australian Border Force, should also be tasked with reviewing medical services on Nauru and for those in detention and in transit accommodation on Manus Island, including services to victims of sexual assault.

But the inescapable conclusion is that Abyan’s story is simply further evidence that the centres on Nauru and Manus are unsustainable, and that both continue to damage vulnerable people for no other purpose than to deter boat arrivals.

“I’m despairing of it, to be honest. I just think we’ve lost the plot,” says former Australian of the Year and eminent psychiatrist Patrick McGorry​, who believes the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull provides an opportunity for a better way.

Maybe it does, but the prospects are grim unless hard questions are asked and honest answers are given.


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The Next Refugee Crisis: Afghanistan

October 21, 2015 | The New York Times

WASHINGTON — With the war in Afghanistan heating up, thousands of Afghan refugees are fleeing their country. But Iran and Pakistan, which house most of the Afghan refugees from previous cycles of violence, are increasingly unwelcoming. So the new exodus has begun to flow toward Europe, already inundated with Syria’s refugees.

Yet these Afghans have attracted little attention from Western policy makers; they do not seem to recognize the Afghans’ desperation, and the challenges their flight poses for Afghanistan, its neighbors and Europe. For Afghans, it is a recurring nightmare. Like previous exoduses going back to the 1970s, this one is stripping the country of precisely the professionals who are vital to its future as a modern state.

President Obama has an opportunity to change that on Thursday by putting the issue high on his agenda, and calling international attention to it, when he hosts Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Washington.

The new surge of refugees began with the Taliban’s offensive this year, and intensified after fighting reached populated areas like Kunduz. Last month, employees at Afghanistan’s passport agency said they were issuing an average of 2,000 passports daily — triple the number of six months ago.

In recent decades, most Afghan refugees have wound up in Pakistan, which now hosts nearly three million. But refugees there complain that this year, officials have been forcing them to return home. The International Organization for Migration says 90,000 Pakistan-based Afghans did just that since January. Now the government refuses to extend identity cards for 1.5 million refugees, many of whom have been in Pakistan for decades, when their permits expire at year’s end.

Iran, too, has been deporting refugees. One reason is fear that Afghans with ties to the drug trade will compound Iran’s own drug-use problems.

Deportation can be a harsh sentence. Some returnees end up in United Nations camps near Jalalabad, a stronghold for former Taliban militants who joined the Islamic State. The danger may be worst for ethnic Hazaras; they are Shiite Muslims, and many fled slaughter by the Taliban.

Afghans cannot expect much help from their own government. One official American report says the State Department stopped funding a training program for Afghanistan’s refugee and repatriation ministry last year after finding the ministry corrupt and dysfunctional.

Helping Afghan refugees is not an easy issue for Pakistani officials, who already deal with a million internally displaced Pakistanis fleeing conflict in their own border areas.

So the Afghan exodus increasingly looks to Europe as its destination, after a perilous trek across Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean.

According to United Nations and European estimates, more than 20 percent of the roughly 500,000 people who have arrived this year via the Mediterranean have been Afghans.

The flow poses a serious challenge for Europe, which is already experiencing its greatest refugee crisis since World War II and needs no further scapegoats for its anti-immigration demagogues to attack.

So the world must acknowledge the plain fact that Afghanistan’s refugees need help. Their own government, beleaguered by war and its own dysfunction, is not up for the task, and its two largest neighbors are increasingly indifferent to their plight.

It is unrealistic to expect Pakistan to voluntarily accept more Afghan refugees. Still, it should better help those already there. Mr. Obama should press Mr. Sharif to extend the identity cards about to expire. He should urge a more gradual and humane repatriation process. And he should assure Mr. Sharif that Americans remain committed to financial support for international aid programs that assist Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran — programs now under budgetary pressure.

Iran, which houses the second-largest Afghan refugee population, has extended the visas of 450,000 Afghans. Yet Afghans there also report forced deportations and other bad treatment. According to one recent report, Iranian border policemen shot and killed seven Afghans trying to enter the country. These policies must end.

As for the Western countries, the European nations whose troops took part in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan should ensure that Afghans are included in any European Union quotas that distribute refugees among member states. And Washington should expedite special visas for those Afghans who worked for the United States government or military and say that their lives are endangered. In September, at least 13,000 Afghans and Iraqis with that status were still waiting.

And, if security can be assured, international aid groups should accelerate the creation of safe zones within pacified areas in the country, where the United Nations says the total internally displaced population numbers nearly a million. These people need incentives to stay in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, some of Afghanistan’s other neighbors should band together to help. Bordering countries in Central Asia, along with Russia, China and Iran, all need more stability in Afghanistan and fear the specter of heavy refugee flows into their countries; they should pool funds to support the formation of permanent safe areas inside Afghanistan, in places like Bamian Province that still enjoy relative stability.

Given the lack of quick fixes for Afghanistan’s violence, corruption and economic distress, safe areas may be the best possible incentive for Afghans to remain in their country. It is only a stopgap, but one that might help keep a dangerous crisis in check.


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Hazara community shocked, angered at death of Afghan asylum seeker

October 20, 2015 | the age

Members of the Afghan Community mourn the death of Khodayar Amini.

Members of the Afghan Community mourn the death of Khodayar Amini. Photo: Jason South

Members of Dandenong’s Hazara community gathered in parkland in Dandenong on Tuesday to pay their respects to Afghan asylum seeker Khodayar Amini, who died after setting himself on fire on Sunday.

A dozen men and women, including several community leaders, laid flowers around a burnt patch of grassland where the 30-year-old died 48 hours earlier.

The burnt area at Robert Reserve was just 20 metres from a popular walking path and several sports ovals and is clearly visible from the walking track.

Most who came to pay tribute had never met Mr Amini, who is believed to have been living in the area for only a short time, but they expressed their shock and anger at the senseless death.

John Golzari, a representative from the Dandenong Hazara community, said locals were shocked by the tragedy.

“We came here to pay our tributes and respects to this death … to tragically end his life like this, it shouldn’t have happened. It’s tragic. It’s sad and it shouldn’t have happened under our government’s watch.

Members of the Afghan Community lay flowers at the site where Khodayar Amini self-immolated in a park in Dandenong.

Members of the Afghan Community lay flowers at the site where Khodayar Amini self-immolated in a park in Dandenong. Photo: JasonSouth

“It’s a very sad day today. People have been shocked and the biggest concern for myself is that there are 31,000 people in the same situation on bridging visas and some of them might be considering doing the same thing. We don’t want to see this happen again.”

Local resident Zakia Baig, a Hazara Pakistani, who has been living in Australia for nine years, said she had come to the site to see if what she had heard about the shocking death was true.

“I received a phone call about this and I came here to know there was a person who set himself on fire. It is hard to believe,” she said.

Ms Baig, who was visibly upset, also expressed her anger at the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers.

“I believe the immigration has caused him to set himself on fire … It shows the enormous pressure he was under. How can somebody be right mentally when they get kept in a limbo knowing nothing about their future,” said Ms Baig.

Mr Amini had been released from the Yongah Hill detention centre in Western Australia on a bridging visa and had been living in Sydney before arriving in Dandenong.

Ms Baig said: “This is a shame for the nation, this is a shame for the government that they can’t provide safety to a human being that is asking for safety, for security, for a second chance for their life. It is insane, inhuman.”

It emerged Mr Amini had been charged by NSW police with making death threats and intimidating people in August.

The charges related to “an alleged offensive and threatening phone call received by an organisation”, a police spokeswoman said.

Mr Amini was due to appear in Burwood Local Court on November 10.

It is understood Immigration Department officials were seeking to interview him in relation to the charges, to determine if he should remain living in the community on a bridging visa.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young on Tuesday said she had been told Mr Amini’s “fear of being returned to immigration detention and sent back to Afghanistan drove him to take this extreme action”.

“What is clear is that the government’s cruel treatment of refugees is having disastrous effects for people both in detention and in the community,” she said.

“There needs to be a full, independent investigation into this case so that we can understand why this young man didn’t receive the support that he so clearly needed.”

For help or information call Lifeline 131 114, beyondblue 1300 224 636, MensLine 1300 789 978.


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