Category Archives: Analysis

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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Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy, PNG/Pacific Solution, Torturing and Health Issues

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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Filed under Analysis, Asylem Seekers in Europe

Scott Morrison adviser says asylum claim proposals put refugees at risk

November 20, 2014 | the guardian

Fast-tracking asylum claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, minister’s adviser tells Senate inquiry

Asylum seekers in the detention centre on Nauru.
Asylum seekers in the detention centre on Nauru. Photograph: Department of Immigration/AAP

Plans to fast-track asylum seeker claims could mean genuine refugees will be returned home, a member of the immigration minister’s advisory council has warned.

Associate professor Mary Anne Kenny, from Murdoch university, said in a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Migration and Maritime Powers Amendment Bill that the plans would make it harder for asylum seekers to have their cases heard.

The bill seeks to make sweeping changes to the way asylum seeker claims are processed. Asylum seekers will be given less time to put their cases to the department, and there will be limited review rights.

The Senate inquiry has received more than 5,000 submissions, many of them critical of the proposals.

Kenny is one of 10 members of the immigration minister’s council on asylum seekers and detention.

Her 11-page submission noted that if the proposed review model was adopted, it would prevent a number of matters being raised in asylum seeker reviews.

“The introduction of accelerated procedures has been problematic in other countries: claims involving credibility determination and/or those that involve complex questions of fact and law can be decided in a manner without due process safeguards such as the opportunity to seek legal advice, access to qualified interpreters, sufficient opportunities to prepare cases and a meaningful opportunity to appeal negative decisions,” Kenny wrote.

“The channeling of certain groups of applications through specific procedures with reduced safeguards creates the risk of refoulement if Australia is not careful to ensure that domestic provisions properly reflect its obligations under international law,” she wrote.

She drew particular attention to the limited review rights offered to asylum seekers after a decision been made on their asylum claim. Under the current migration framework, a decision by an immigration department officer can be appealed to the refugee review tribunal.

The new bill seeks to limit the circumstances of these appeals. The limited timeframes would affect how asylum seekers put their claims, Kenny wrote, and it would “clearly impact upon their ability to articulate claims at a primary level”.

“Applicants may not be aware of what is important to raise in respect of their claims due to a lack of understanding of the criteria for protection.”

The limited review rights might also prevent translation errors being picked up, Kenny wrote. She said the interpreting service in Australia “can have difficulty keeping pace with the need for skilled interpreters” and that “without an interview on review, errors in interpreting may never be discovered”.

Kenny wrote that delays in process were undesirable – about 30,000 asylum claims are still waiting to be dealt with – and she was aware the immigration department had “focused much time and attention on improving the quality of its primary decision making”.

But the fast-track review process “may not have the desired” effect, she wrote. She drew on experiences in the United States, where changes aimed at speeding up processing ultimately led to greater delays as a result of appeals.

Her concerns echo the comments of leading refugee lawyer David Manne, who told a Senate hearing into the bill last Friday that the fast-track process was likely to result in significant backlogs in courts.

A number of other organisations – including the NSW Bar Association, the Migration Institute of Australia, Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia – have expressed concerns about the bill.


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Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy

Of justice for the Hazaras

January 30, 2014

Photo Credit: Eltaf Hussain (Hazaragi Wallpapers)

Photo Credit: Eltaf Hussain (Hazaragi Wallpapers)

THE emergency measures taken after the nationwide protest at the latest round of killing of pilgrims in Mastung district offer little assurance that a way to end the ordeal of the Hazara community has been found.

While no breakthrough in efforts to nab the culprits has been reported public attention has been focused on the air-lifting of hundreds of pilgrims from Dalbandin to Quetta. Welcome though this operation has been it has also thrown up a few disquieting issues.

First, the volume of the annual pilgrim traffic to and from Iran has proved to be quite large, and the need to manage it has obviously been ignored year after year. Secondly, the administration has conceded its inability to guarantee security of road travel. And, thirdly, there is a danger that a large piece of territory may pass into the hands of militants determined to harass the governments of Pakistan and Iran both. Neither air flights nor a ferry service along the Makran coast will alter the situation.

This means that the anti-Hazara militias will have greater freedom and capacity to continue their murderous attacks on the beleaguered community. What does this portend for the Hazaras (the Shia majority among them, as the small number of Sunni Hazaras are not targeted) and Balochistan?

Since no firm attempt has been made to subdue them, the gangs engaged in massacring the Hazaras consider themselves free to persist in their criminal acts and the threat to the Hazaras remains unabated. The seriousness of this threat can be gauged only if one takes stock of Hazara losses since 2003, when their mass killing began. Forty-seven people were killed in July 2003 in an attack on an imambargah; 36 perished in March 2004 when the Ashura procession was attacked; 63 were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Youm-i-Quds procession in 2010; 26 pilgrims were killed in Mastung in September 2011 and more than 100 were killed in the Alamdar Road massacre last year.

In addition many prominent Hazara professionals and community leaders have fallen victim to targeted killing over the past 15 years. It is necessary to realise that this huge loss of life has been caused not only to the Hazara community but to the whole of Balochistan and Pakistan.

Further, the entire community has been condemned to live all the time in fear of liquidation. They have lost the right to earn their livelihood in peace and thir freedom of movement has been severely curtailed. A large umber of the Hazara have chosen to seek security of life in foreign lands, and many have perished at sea in their attempts to reach Australia in unsafe vessels.

The government has never assessed the economic cost to the country caused by the loss of skilled human resources, the closure of Hazara-owned mines and other enterprises, the stoppage of remittances the expatriate Hazaras’ used to send from the Gulf states and other foreign countries, and the decline in the Hazaras’ share in services. No society can afford the loss of human resources at this scale, and certainly not Balochistan.

The Hazaras have also contributed a great deal to Balochistan’s social development. As they are not a land-owning community they have had no part in sustaining the tribal-feudal tradition. They have distinguished themselves in services and in the field of education. They have established schools and colleges where the young ones of all communities are accommodated.

Their boys and girls are still keen to go to the universities and institutions of higher learning but transporters have been frightened into declining to serve them. Their women are far more liberated than others and have acted as agents of female emancipation.

The Balochistan government, and to a greater extent the federal authorities, have a duty not only to protect Hazara Shias and guarantee them their rights and freedoms, but also to revive their hope of a decent future as full citizens of Pakistan. Their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness stem not only from the state’s failure to protect their lives and property, they emanate from their belief that the state agencies protect their tormentors.

The case of Usman Saifullah Kurd and Shafiq Rahman destroyed the Hazaras’ faith not only in the administration’s competence but also in its sincerity in offering them a fair deal. The two prominent members of a banned outfit were tried in 2007 for attacks on Shias and found guilty. Both confessed to their crimes and bragged about killing more Shias. Kurd was awarded the death sentence and Shafiq life imprisonment. The way they escaped from a high security prison in January 2008 still rankles in each Hazara heart. The community is convinced that the convicts were enabled to escape by the authorities themselves.

Even otherwise, the Hazaras question the failure of the all-powerful Frontier Crops to go for the trigger-happy members of the Punjab-based militia that enjoys the freedom of not only Mastung and Khuzdar but also of Quetta. They make no attempt to conceal themselves or hide their weapons in the street or the mosque. They have already destroyed Balochistan’s reputation as a peaceful multicultural society.

There is every reason to apprehend that the Hazaras will not be the only victims of their violence. The governments of Pakistan, Punjab and Balochistan must together realise the consequences of tolerating the anti-Hazara forces. Hitherto the world has tended to treat the Hazara killings as manifestations of sectarian intolerance. If the killings are not ended the verdict against Pakistan could be much harsher.

I.A Rehman for Dawn.Com



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Filed under Analysis, Hazara Persecution

Stop the boats asylum seeker policy ‘morally corrupt and indefensible’, former Navy officer says

January 27, 2014

John Ingram poses next to his official portrait.

John Ingram poses next to his official portrait.

A retired senior Royal Australian Navy (RAN) officer has hit out at the Federal Government’s stop the boats policy as “morally corrupt and totally indefensible”.

“For our leaders to proclaim personal and religious ethics amazes me,” said retired RAN Captain John Ingram, recognised in yesterday’s Australia Day honours with an Order of Australia Medal for his decades of work supporting the Indo-Chinese community, and also for leading a naval rescue of 99 asylum seekers from a sinking boat.

“The concept of turning boats back is absolutely abhorrent. I have an issue with the hardline approach, the fact that RAN sailors are (now) being used for political purposes,” he said.

“And turning back boats on the open sea and pursuing towards Indonesia, which happened just recently, is not the naval way of doing things.”

Mr Ingram says growing anger and confusion within Navy ranks was further exacerbated last week byreports of alleged mistreatment of asylum seekers aboard a boat intercepted by the Navy.

Asylum seekers claimed they were beaten and burned while their vessel was being towed back to Indonesia – allegations rejected by the Navy.

“I think there has been a lot of unjust criticism of the way the Navy has handled it,” Mr Ingram said, speaking from his home in Port Macquarie, New South Wales.

“I realise the Chief of Navy issued a statement last week denying malfeasance.

“It’s my experience from 30 years in the Navy that sailors are extremely sympathetic towards all people in peril on the sea.”


In 1981, while serving on the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, Mr Ingram led a dramatic rescue operation to recover 99 Vietnamese people from a fishing boat sinking in the South China Sea.

Those rescued became known as the Melbourne Group 99, or MG99.

The MG99 were put ashore in Singapore and sent to an overcrowded refugee transit camp.

Without waiting for approval from Canberra, Mr Ingram led Navy teams into the camp to ensure the welfare of the MG99.

There, he says, thousands of people were living under plastic sheeting and were forced to boil grass for food.

Seventy-five of the group ultimately resettled in Australia, mainly in Sydney’s Cabramatta area, and today second and third generations of the MG99 group maintain close links with Mr Ingram.

The MG99 story was featured in a 2012 Foreign Correspondent Online Special Report.

Parallels with Indonesia Confrontation

Last week there were warnings that Australia risks sea-going clashes with Indonesia and the admission that Australian ships have entered Indonesian waters without permission.

Mr Ingram sees parallels with the 1962-66 “Confrontation”, when Australia and other Commonwealth nations fought an undeclared, largely secretive, low-level war against Indonesia, while simultaneously engaging in a high-level diplomatic slanging match.

Australia’s secret war with Indonesia

In 1965/66, Australian troops fought a covert war inside Indonesian territory. Listen to their stories on Radio National.


“I actually served in the Navy’s flagship during the Confrontation with Indonesia. I know what is involved,” he said.

“I don’t like the idea of creating mischief with our nearest neighbour, and a lot has been done since the East Timor situation and Confrontation with Indonesia back in the mid 1960s to restore harmony and goodwill between nations … the last thing we need to do is jeopardise that relationship.

“It is claimed that the boats have stopped, and that may well be the case … but that’s not the way to solve that particular problem.

“That problem is a diplomatic one and not one that should be corrected by force alone.”

Mr Ingram has four decades of experience in assisting refugees.

As the Vietnam War ended, he was a Navy logistics specialist on exchange in the United States, where he helped establish a refugee transit camp for 25,000 Indo-Chinese.

(Stopping the boats) is not the way to solve that particular problem. That problem is a diplomatic one, and not one that should be corrected by force alone.

John Ingram


After returning to Navy headquarters in Canberra, Mr Ingram led a community group that successfully provided transit housing for newly arrived refugees.

“I’m not saying the system hasn’t been abused by some, it has, but in the main most are genuine in their desire to avoid persecution, political, economic, whatever, in their homeland,” he said.

“My immediate concern are the several thousand people currently incarcerated on Nauru, Manus and at Christmas Island, that they are brought to Australia as quickly as possible for orderly processing to occur and this plan that I’ve developed would enable that to occur.”

A solution in regional Australia?

Mr Ingram proposes the establishment of a “contract of obligations”, where asylum seekers are given the opportunity to live and work in regional Australia for five years, receive English lessons and skills training, and only be permitted to relocate to a major city on completion of the five-year period, when permanent residency would be awarded.

These folk, as with earlier generations of displaced persons, have made massive contributions to our country.

John Ingram


He argues that Australia has a strong track record in responding humanely to international upheavals and cites the success of previous Coalition and Labor leaders.

“Prime minister (Malcolm) Fraser displayed that leadership when he opened the doors to boat folk from South-East Asian refugee camps,” he said.

“Prime minister (Bob) Hawke’s eyes welled with tears after Tiananmen Square when he proudly announced those Chinese students in Australia who feared persecution would be granted residency status.

“These folk, as with earlier generations of displaced persons, have made massive contributions to our country.

“We’ve painted ourselves into a corner. We need an honourable way out. And we need a way out very soon.”


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Filed under Analysis, Public Reaction/Perception Towards Asylum Seekers

No exit [for the Hazaras]

January 26, 2014

He fled Pakistan for the relative safety of Australia, only to meet tragedy in a detention camp

Nobody can understand the pain and plight of 22-year-old Mohammad Naqi*. A father murdered in Quetta. A forced migration from his hometown. A brother stabbed in a “detention camp” in Nauru. And a sister who died in his lap due to lack of treatment in the very same camp. Ironically, this family of three had fled from Quetta to protect their lives.

“I am safe today, but I have paid a huge price for this security. I am a broken man. I want to piece myself together again, but sometimes, I just don’t have the strength to do so.”

Even for a community used to migration, the concept of ‘Home’ is fast-becoming alien to many Hazaras. “How can you talk about home, when we weren’t safe in the sanctity of our houses?” Naqi bellowed.

Naqi’s plight started in 2012, when his father was shot dead in a Quetta bazaar — for the crime of being a Hazara. They buried him alongside their mother, who had passed away in in 2001.

Orphaned and insecure, the three siblings decided to make the move to Australia, a country that had been accepting Hazara asylum-seekers. “Some family friends had migrated to Australia in 2008. We contacted the same human trafficker who had handled their case,” narrated Naqi. “After an initial deposit was made, we set off for Malaysia from Karachi, on a legitimate tourist visa. From Malaysia, we were supposed to go to Indonesia, from where we were to be smuggled to Australia by boat.”

It all went accirding to plan, till the siblings arrived in Australia — in February 2013.

“Even before we reached Australian shores, we were apprehended by Australian authorities. We were then sent to Manus Island, to live in tents in what they call detention centres. That’s where I first lost my elder brother, and then my younger sister,” Naqi recalled.

These detention centres are the cornerstone of the Australian immigration mechanism for asylum-seekers, explained Perth-based Jasmina Brankovich of the Refugee Rights Action Network (RRAN). “The John Howard-led government instituted what is known as the ‘Pacific Solution’ — offshore detention centres were created in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, from where asylum-seekers were to be brought to Australia,” she explained.

In theory, all asylum-seekers from across the globe are to be vetted at these detention centres — the reality is less sanitised.

“My brother, Saqib*, spoke some English,” narrated Naqi. “We met some African refugees at the same camp. They lived a few rows away from us. They didn’t speak English, so it was difficult to communicate with them. For some reason – I think it was over food – they quarrelled with Saqib one day. From then on, our relations became strained with them. One night, there was another altercation. The African men stabbed my brother, and there was nowhere I could go for medical help. He died the same night.”

Naqi also lost his sister, Salma*, because there was no medical treatment available for her when she contracted fever. “By the time, a doctor was sent to visit, it was too late. Apparently my sister was suffering from pneumonia. Salma breathed her last in my arms. In my arms.”

Alleging “inhumane treatment of asylum-seekers” at the hands of Australian authorities, Brankovich argued that the phenomenon needs to be placed in the context of racism in Australia. “Refugees are used as a political football,” she said. “There is a staggering amount of ignorance in Australia on the issue of asylum-seekers. The Hazara people are suffering genocide, they have a right to seek asylum in Australia.”

On the Australian government’s part, all efforts were focussed on resettling permanent Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. Sources working on migration from Pakistan, including Hazara migration, claimed that the Australian government was initially working with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle registered Afghan Hazara refugees in Pakistan to Australia.

Per the initial arrangement, being discussed in February 2013, about 3,000 families could have been accommodated, but after carrying out a headcount, it turned out that there were only a little over 700 registered Afghan Hazara refugees living in Pakistan. This opened up space and the opportunity for Pakistani Hazaras to be accommodated in the asylum programme. The arrangement currently depends on the various agencies short-listing families deemed most vulnerable.

“In truth, Australia is still a colonial nation, a country that has not set itself free from its colonial past,” claimed Brankovich. “Boats are a very small percentage of transportation means adopted by asylum-seekers. But there is manipulation of Australian public opinion against asylum-seekers. When you visit detention centres, you’ll find people who are irreparably damaged. There is absolute mental health disintegration there.”

The pathetic situation at detention centres came to the fore in Australia as a team of 15 doctors, who headed to Christmas Island to inspect medical facilities and the immigration process, issued a 92-page “letter of concern” that detailed gross medical malpractices by Australian authorities in their attempt to divert asylum-seekers to Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The doctors, employed by the International Health and Management Services (IHMS), alleged that their employers and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) have made decisions that “do not appear to have always been made in the best interest of patients.”

Among other explosive revelations, the doctors claimed: “Patients are now being cleared on the basis of an ineffective assessment and without pathology. Inappropriate reallocation of doctors away from clinics to perform more of these clinically unreliable assessments results in the deterioration of chronic disease and delayed treatment of acute illness.”

In related developments, on Jan 19, 2014, the Nauru government not only sacked but also deported its only magistrate, Peter Law. It also cancelled the visa of its chief justice, Geoffrey Eames, when he tried to intervene and prevent Law’s deportation. Both men were Australian citizens. It is widely believed that the action was prompted due to the pair’s treatment of asylum-seekers.

While Australia struggles with accommodating asylum-seekers in a societal fabric that is tainted by racism, families like Naqi’s have broken down. The Hazara people in Pakistan are a people defined by migration: Naqi’s grandparents migrated from Afghanistan and he himself had to move to Australia. He is now living in Sydney as a permanent Australian resident, but in search of safety, Naqi lost the very family he tried to save. “Some nights I wake up with dreams of holding my brother’s body. And some nights I wake holding my sister,” he says in a low voice. The nightmare, it seems, simply never ends.

Names changed to protect privacy

The author can be reached at @ASYusuf



Filed under Analysis, Asylum Policy, Hazara Persecution, Torturing and Health Issues

Human Rights Watch annual report says Australia’s record damaged by treatment of asylum seekers

January 22, 2014

New York-based Human Rights Watch has criticised Australia in its annual world report, saying it has damaged its record by persistently undercutting refugee protections.

Human Rights Watch says successive Australian governments continue to engage in scare-mongering politics at the expense of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

“Successive governments have prioritised domestic politics over Australia’s international legal obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers,” the report said.

“Too often, the Government has attempted to demonise those trying to reach Australia by boat and has insisted that officials refer to all asylum seekers who do so as ‘illegal maritime arrivals’.”

It says although Australia has a strong record protecting civil and political rights, it has damaged that record and its potential to be a regional human rights leader.


The group’s criticism is directed at both the previous Labor leadership as well as the current Government.

Human Rights Watch also says Australia has become increasingly unwilling to publicly raise human rights abuses in countries with which it shares trade or securities ties.

It specifically points to Sri Lanka, accusing the Federal Government of rationalising torture there “in part, by the goal of enlisting Sri Lanka’s support in preventing asylum seekers from leaving Sri Lanka”.

The report comes amid turmoil with the judicial system on Nauru, with the president of Australia’s Human Rights Commission saying Australia remains liable for asylum seekers there under international law.


Report ‘not surprising’: Human Rights Commission president

Australian Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs says she was not surprised by the report.

“I think there’s no doubt at all that Australia’s position in relation to asylum seekers is unique internationally as a matter of practice,” she said.

“It is extremely harsh and egregious and that is raising concerns at the international level. That’s very worrying.”

Professor Triggs says the continued detention of children is the area of greatest concern.

“I think every Australian understands that perhaps this is one area where Australia has simply gone too far,” she said.

“As I said, we’ve got over 1,000 children in closed detention, in isolated conditions, Christmas Island and in other detention centres around Australia.

“On Nauru, we have 850 people of whom about 125 are children and similar numbers, slightly greater, on Manus Island.

“Our concern is, as a matter of law, children should not be detained except as a matter of last resort and we are clearly not at the last resort level.”

The Greens say the commission’s report is an embarrassment for Australia.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the report should act as a warning.

“We can’t continue to ignore what’s going on in the rest of the world, particularly in our region,” she said.

“We should be calling out human rights abuses when they occur and not shying away from speaking out about what’s right.”

Abuses and failings in more than 90 countries

In its chapter on Indonesia, the report says there has been little improvement when it comes to protecting human rights in the past year.

The report says Indonesian authorities “respond weakly to growing violence and discrimination against religious minorities”.

It alleges mistreatment of refugees and migrants, including unaccompanied migrant children who reach Indonesia.

The report points to the volatile Papua region, saying that security forces have “virtual impunity for abuses”.

It says the armed Free Papua Movement continues to carry out attacks against government forces.

The 700-page report details abuse and failings in more than 90 countries.

It highlights the civil war in Syria, in which more than 100,000 people have died.

“The unchecked slaughter of civilians in Syria elicited global horror and outrage, but not enough to convince world leaders to exert the pressure needed to stop it,” the report said.

The report said there was a threat of “large-scale atrocities” in several African countries, including Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


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