Category Archives: Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

Asylum seekers registered with UNHCR in Indonesia after June no longer eligible for resettlement in Australia, Scott Morrison says

November 18, 2014 | ABC News

Asylum seekers who registered with the United Nations in Indonesia after June this year will no longer be eligible for resettlement in Australia, the Immigration Minister has announced.

The Federal Government said the move would hurt people smugglers.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would continue to resettle some refugees who registered with the UN in Indonesia before that point, however there would not be as many places allocated, meaning the waiting period would be much longer.

“These changes should reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“The Government’s policies under Operation Sovereign Borders have not only saved lives at sea, but also allowed more places under our humanitarian program for the world’s most desperate and vulnerable refugees.

“It is important that these places are not taken up by people seeking to exploit the program by shopping for resettlement through a transit country.”

Greens leader Christine Milne described the decision as disgraceful.

“This is more cruelty, it’s unacceptable, and it just shows the rest of the world that Australia is a very hard-hearted, self-centred country, and that is a very bad place for us to be in a global context,” she said.

Mr Morrison said Australia’s humanitarian program in 2014-15 would provide 13,750 places, including 11,000 places for people overseas.

He said the Indonesian government had been briefed on the Government’s latest decision.

Refugee and immigration lawyer David Manne said the change would mean more refugees would be trapped in limbo.

“The fundamental problem with this is that it does nothing to improve the plight of refugees needing protection within our region,” he told PM.

“Instead, what it does is again propose a move which will involve Australia shirking its responsibility to refugees in the region and failing to shoulder its fair share of the responsibility to protect refugees.

“It is also the type of move which indicates to the region that Australia is intent upon deterring refugees from coming to Australia, even by way of resettlement, without taking up its fair share of responsibility for the protection of refugees.”


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Learning centre helps asylum seekers cope

October 03, 2014 | the age

Twenty adolescent boys and girls cram in one room of a house in West Java, singing and gesturing in delightfully accented English a song made famous by a giant purple dinosaur.

“With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too?” they sing and point, embracing Barney the Dinosaur’s signature tune with the same enthusiasm of the generation of children before them.

This is the English class at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre and the mainly ethnic Hazara children attending could not be happier to be here.

A child at the asylum seekers' new "learning centre".A child at the asylum seekers’ new “learning centre”. Photo: Michael Bachelard

In what would be the lounge if this was a family home, the littlies are having their faces painted with English words such as “Excellent”, while others play word games with their young teacher and recite, with enthusiasm, Ring a-ring a-rosie.

In a third tiny room, the older teenagers take a rather more serious approach to their lesson, even though it’s standing room only.

Just two months ago, these children were bored and aimless, dislocated from their home countries and stuck in temporary accommodation as their school years ebbed.

Children at an asylum seeker learning centre in Cisarua, Indonesia.Children at an asylum seeker learning centre in Cisarua, Indonesia. Photo: Michael Bachelard

A year before that they might have been preparing with their parents to attempt the perilous boat voyage from Indonesia to Australia, fleeing the sometimes deadly dangers of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

But Operation Sovereign Borders has stopped that traffic in boats,and now hundreds of children are among the 10,000 people marooned indefinitely in Indonesia while their asylum claims wend their way through the United Nations process towards an uncertain end.

Foreign children cannot attend Indonesian schools but, rather than give in to hopelessness and frustration, a group of four Hazara men pushed to open this learning centre in early August.

A class at the learning centre in Cisarua.A class at the learning centre in Cisarua. Photo: Michael Bachelard

One of them, Khadim Dai, is only 18 and wise beyond his years.

“Before, Indonesia was just a transit for asylum seekers. Now we must live here for three or four or five years, so we must educate our children. It’s as simple as that,” Khadim says.

The community expressed its interest a while ago but renting the house led to an explosion in applications. Fifty-five students and seven teachers now come to what the founders are careful to avoid calling a school (because it is not certified by the Indonesian government). They range in age from about five to 17 and attend for three hours a day, four days a week, to learn English, maths and “general knowledge”, or basic science.

Welcome distraction: Children learning English at the centre. Welcome distraction: Children learning English at the centre. Photo: Michael Bachelard

Classes in English for adult women are also held twice a week, so that, if they’re lucky enough to win one of the few thousand refugee places in Australia or New Zealand, they’ll be prepared.

An Australian donor has paid the rent to start with and donors have supplied piles of textbooks in English. The asylum seeker community kicked in to buy some basic equipment – a whiteboard and some markers. Even so, space is tight and the students sit on the floor or stand – partly because they have no chairs. Another 20 children are on the waiting list because they simply cannot fit into the building.

Despite its shortcomings, teachers and students here are both clear on the value of this project.

The learning centre aims to keep children occupied and prepare them for a possible life in an English-speaking country. The learning centre aims to keep children occupied and prepare them for a possible life in an English-speaking country. Photo: Michael Bachelard

“Sitting at home wasting your time is not good and you will be depressed,” says 17-year-old Maliha Ali in almost flawless English, “so that is why I am coming here – to utilise my time and utilise the students’ time and teach them something that I know”.

Maliha was still a student herself in Pakistan when her family fled a Taliban death threat to her father, Liaquat Ali Changezi. She didn’t have a chance to graduate but now she is the “teacher” of the middle level class.

Her little brother, Fazil Aqil, 12, agrees that, “when we were free [to do nothing], the bad thoughts come in our mind”.

All smiles: A young boy at the learning centre.All smiles: A young boy at the learning centre. Photo: Michael Bachelard

“Now it is good that we have a school and three hours we are busy with our school.”

Both children would say that – they are the offspring of Changezi, the learning centre’s co-founder and “principal”, who was a well known local Hazara TV actor in Quetta, Pakistan, before he says he was forced to flee. Ask Changezi about the learning centre and he does not celebrate his achievement so much as worry about its inadequacy.

Some students have much more English than others and it’s hard for the teachers to manage, he says.

“We need a bigger space … we have classes one, two and three,but the students belong in different age groups and different classes … it’s very hard for the teachers.”

Changezi also wants to find chairs, a computer and printer, and some training for the volunteer teachers.

“I want to start a full service but we can’t do it right now.”

Khadim says a collateral benefit of the learning centre has been improved communications with the local Indonesian community. Relations between the thousands of asylum seekers who live in the hilltop town of Cisarua and the locals have not always been happy and stories of threatened violence and distrust are easy to find. But the Indonesian community leader for this area, known as the “RT,” cut the ribbon to open the learning centre, and Indonesian children who want to learn English (and don’t mind their new friends speaking Hazaragi in the playground) have been invited to attend.

“We are a guest here, so we want to know about Indonesian culture and respect them,” Khadim says.

It’s a small start towards some high-minded aims. But the children in this school know that anything’s better than sitting around doing nothing.



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

September 12, 2014 | The Age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not only young men are making the journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Shrinking asylum space for Pakistan’s Hazaras

September 12, 2014 | Al Jazeera

Australia’s tough policies have not stopped Pakistan’s asylum seekers from making the journey in search of a new life.

More than 80,000 Hazaras have fled Pakistan, and Australia was a popular destination until 2013 [Reuters]
Zakir Hussain and Syed Jawad Hussain, not related to each other, were on their way to the graveyard during Eid in August when motorcyclists shot them at point-blank range in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, killing them instantly.

A police investigation was launched but no one has yet been arrested despite the perpetrators claiming responsibility for the attack. The government has failed to stop attacks on the minority Shia Hazaras, over 1,000 of whom have been killed in the last decade.

As news of the killings reached Dawood – now based in Australia – he was overcome with a familiar sense of guilt that engulfs him every time a Hazara life is cut short in the town that he fled in 2012.

In a phone interview with Al Jazeera from western Australia, Dawood recalled the first time he felt this way – at the detention centre in the Australian territory of Christmas Island – when he called his home and could hear people crying.

His wife told him: “It’s just some guests,” but he had been to too many funerals and knew better.

He scanned Hazara social media pages and saw photos of dead Shia pilgrims who had been attacked by the banned armed group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

I called home again and when they told that me my chacha [uncle] was among the dead, I hated myself. I was so angry with myself for choosing this [refugee] life. I wish it had been him on the boat to Australia and me on the bus [that was attacked].

– Dawood, Pakistani Hazara refugee in Australia

“I called home again and when they told that my chacha [uncle] was among the dead, I hated myself,” Dawood told Al Jazeera.

“I was so angry with myself for choosing this [refugee] life. I wish it had been him on the boat to Australia and me on the bus [that was attacked].”

More than 80,000 Hazaras have fled Pakistan in the past decade and while Sri Lanka, Europe, and North America are options, activists say Australia was the most popular destination until 2013.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, “We Are the Walking Dead,” the Hazara community in Pakistan is estimated to be around 500,000.

Had Dawood not taken the stinking, overloaded boat to Christmas Island, he would not have been able to pursue his dream of becoming an engineer.

“I had just finished high school and was ready to enrol at a local university when my father stopped me as the security situation in Quetta had worsened.”

Coming from an educated middle class family, it was not easy for Dawood to give up so he applied to universities in Australia, confident that good grades would secure him a place.

However, the Australian High Commission rejected his visa application which, he said, left him with no choice but to “take the illegal route”.

People smugglers

Several groups of “people smugglers” operate networks across Asia, and Dawood used one based in Quetta to make his journey.

Handing over a fortune to fixers and airport officials, refugees travel across the Southeast Asia via sea and air.

Reaching Indonesia is the first hurdle, where sources in the capital, Jakarta, told Al Jazeera that there are almost 2,500 Pakistani asylum seekers – over 75 percent of whom are Shia Hazaras.

Refugees register with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and those seeking shelter are cared for by aid agencies while others such as Dawood – who had already paid $11,500 to the smugglers – find temporary accommodation.

Four months later, in September 2012, Dawood left Bogor on the Indonesian island of Java, in the middle of the night with 140 others for the journey by sea that has claimed at least 1,500 lives in the last decade.

Ali – who witnessed countless attacks on Hazaras – fled Pakistan for a similar reason. He was forced to change his route to work every day until he gave up last year, closed his jewellery business in Quetta, left his house and took his family to Indonesia in 2010.

“Our enemies can pick us out [on the basis of distinct physical features],” Ali, who requested only his first name be used, told Al Jazeera from Jakarta.

“We can’t tell which motorcyclist has a gun, who among the crowd is a suicide bomber, or where our vehicles will be blown into pieces.”

Anti-immigration campaign

Such desperate attempts to reach Australia came to an abrupt halt last year after Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, launched “Operation Sovereign Borders”.

After winning the elections on the back of a strong anti-immigration campaign, Abbott was quick to seal his country’s borders to immigrants arriving by the sea.

Find out more with our exclusive interactive feature

Stories of boats being turned back close to Christmas Island, Australian navy officials torturing asylum seekers, and the government offering cash incentives to those in detention centres to return home quickly brought the boat journeys to a stop.

Hussain, who arrived in Australia before the operation was launched, had been on the verge of obtaining a permanent visa when he was again put behind the electrified barbed wire of the Curtin Detention Centre on the mainland.

A former trader at the Quetta Liaquat Bazar, he had confronted the daily threat of death before fleeing Pakistan.

The clampdown has plunged him into uncertainty that will continue until Australia’s government decides what to do with him – and thousands like him.

Criticism from refugee agencies, including the UNHCR, has done little to move ministers even though Australia is a signatory to the UN refugee convention.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has defended the controversial programme, and his office refused Al Jazeera’s request for a comment on why his government is closing its borders on a persecuted community.

Stress of uncertainty

While the policy may not be deterring Pakistanis from seeking asylum, many languish in a state of limbo as they await a decision on their cases.

Once registered with the UNHCR, individuals spend months in aid centres awaiting progress, where some suffer mental illness amid the stress of uncertainty.

“Australia refusing refugees arriving by sea has not reduced the number of people fleeing Pakistan,” Ali said. Six months on, his family’s future remains undetermined.

“People are still coming, hoping that UNHCR will help them find a new home.”

Dawood did manage to live his dream and study engineering, but he was attacked while he was on a vacation in Pakistan in 2013.

He had travelled home to see his family, and a week before returning to Perth gunmen shot at him on his way to market, paralysing one arm.

Meanwhile, a recent online anti-immigration campaign in Australia leaves asylum seekers such as him in no doubt that they are not welcome in their adopted home either.

It might not carry the same threat as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s anti-Shia literature, but the message to this shrinking community is clear: They have no place left to call home


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Hazards of identity | Uncertainty and death stalk the Hazaras wherever they go

May 27. 2014

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

Herald Exclusive: Hazards of Identity

“Every morning, as I step out of my house to drop my children to school, the fear of being recognised haunts me,” says 32-year-old Fatima, a member of the Hazara community living in Karachi’s Hussain Hazara Goth. “If I hear footsteps approaching behind me, I think to myself, ‘Could this be my killer?’ I quickly step into a rickshaw but as it drives out of the alley, with the sound of any motorcycle passing by, I prepare myself to be shot from any direction,” says the round-faced brunette, her hazel eyes visibly filled with grief.

Most of the 13,000 Hazaras living in Karachi moved to the city to avoid persecution and the deadly attacks they were facing, both for their sectarian beliefs and ethnic identity, in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan. “I could not stay in Quetta any longer,” whispers Batool Ali, shuddering with fear, as she recalls the June 2012 bomb attack on her university bus. “I was sitting in the back of the bus, so I survived with injuries,” she pauses, wiping away her tears. “Every time I passed by that road, the entire incident replayed in my head; blood and bodies were everywhere; my friends were lying on the road, dead. It was too much to bear.” Traumatised, she stopped going to the university, and decided to enroll herself in Karachi instead.

She discovered that life in Karachi was not as easy as she had expected. Security remained elusive and there was no official or non-government support for Hazaras under death threats. Then there were logistical issues.

Karachi does not have many hostels to accommodate those who come here for studies and don’t have families here. Ali now lives with some distant relatives. But, as she says, at least she does not have to cross the same road everyday where she lost many of her friends. That, for her, is a huge emotional relief. ‘It is better than dying a ruthless death,’ is how many Hazaras justify their migration from Quetta to Karachi.

For many of them, however, it changes nothing. Even in Karachi, they live under constant fear. Many Hazaras living in Hussain Hazara Goth complain that their places of worship come under continuous attacks and their women are stalked and threatened when they are seen on the streets. “I hardly step out of my house, except when necessary. When I do, it is almost as if I am paralysed by fear,” says Fatima, born and raised in Karachi. Her fear is mirrored by the whole Hazara community, including the rickshaw driver who takes her around. “He is the sole bread earner of his family. What if he gets killed because of me?” she asks.

For more than 600,000 Hazaras across Pakistan, such fears are part of their daily routine. The uncertainty of making it back home alive each day, or questioning whether they will see their children, siblings, parents and relatives alive, has become the basic reality of their lives.

The first terrorist attack on the Hazaras took place in Quetta in the late 1990s but the deadliest so far have been two blasts in the first two months of 2013, which together led to the death of around 200 people, including women and children. According to Nazish Brohi, an independent researcher and human rights activist based in Karachi, “Hazaras are targeted in waves of religious extremism sweeping the country. They are killed because they are Shia.” She points out that ethnic identity could be an additional reason for Hazaras becoming targets of sectarian killers. “Because of their ethnicity, they are physically distinct,” she says. “But, it is important to see that Shias are being targeted across the country — in Karachi, in Hangu, in Gilgit, in Kohat and in Quetta.”

Many Hazara women living in Quetta and Karachi have an additional problem to take care of: They live by themselves, without their male relatives around. Men of their families – husbands, brothers and fathers – have left to seek refuge elsewhere in the world, mostly Australia.

Fatima lives with her two sisters and her brother’s wife. “We help each other run our households and raise our children, who are all under the age of 10.”

It is hard to live without any men in the house, says Fatima, but it was harder when they were around because of the constant anxiety and terror the women would go through each time the men stepped out of the house. “My sisters and I would take turns to call them, incessantly, just to be sure that they were alive,” she says, her voice lowering to a level barely audible. She pauses, just long enough to gather herself, “It became part of our routine — the fear, the insecurity. It was making us all miserable.”

Frustrated by this intolerable uncertainty, the men left Pakistan in search of safety and security. “At least, I know my husband and my brother are alive. I guess this is enough for now,” says Fatima. Given the travails of travel, men do not take women along with them as they embark on their arduous journey across borders and through seas. This leaves behind the women to not just run their households but also to take care of their ageing in-laws and parents. “We can’t just pack up everything and leave. It is not easy. Our parents, relatives and in-laws all depend on us,” she tells the Herald.

Other shores, other worries

“Around 100,000 Hazaras have migrated from Balochistan to either other parts of Pakistan or outside the country,” says Tahir Hussain Khan, the vice president of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). “The most common destinations for migrating Hazaras are Australia, Indonesia and New Zealand,” he says. Most of them are now living in Australia. Indonesia, too, is housing about 20,000 Hazaras (living there mostly illegally), he adds.

Fatima’s brother Abdullah is one of the fortunate ones who made it to Australia and was granted political asylum. Her husband, however, is still struggling in Saudi Arabia, like numerous others from his community who wake up each morning with the hope of living a normal life again.

For almost all of them, the only means to escape from Pakistan are illegal. The journey starts in Karachi and, passing through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, is expected to end in Australia. The last leg of the journey usually comprises a highly risky boat ride across open seas between Indonesia and Australia. The travellers, generally, have little else to cling to, other than the hope to make it to the Australian shore; a possibility becoming increasingly uncertain, recently. “At least 1,000 Hazaras have drowned or have gone missing while trying to exit Pakistan,” says Khan.

Habibullah Manavi, a 22-year-old student from Quetta, could have been one of those. After walking through jungles, being mugged in Indonesia and held in a detention centre there for months, he finally got on to a boat to Australia, along with 34 other Hazara asylum seekers. Within 24 hours after the boat started its journey towards Christmas Island – a small Australian territory about 240 miles off the Indonesian coast – it capsized in a storm. He drifted on the sea for three days. While many of his co-travellers died in front of him, Manavi was rescued by Indonesian fishermen who brought him back to Indonesia, where authorities put him in a detention centre. After going through this ordeal for close to two years, only recently did he manage to get a valid visa for Australia.

On a prayer and a wing

“I did not want to go abroad but I had to do,” Manavi tells the Herald, on the phone from Indonesia. “The situation in Quetta was deteriorating by the day. I could lose my life in a random killing. I did not want to die like that,” he says.

In early July 2012, he travelled from Pakistan to Malaysia on a valid visa and met a human smuggler there, who arranged for his journey to Indonesia by boat. “I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for two days and paid 2,000 US dollars to get to Indonesia. After many weeks, he ended up not in Jakarta but in an Indonesian prison. “I remained in lock-up for a month with many others like me. Each of us was made to pay bribes at different rates for our release.”

Once out of prison, Manavi again contacted the human smuggler who helped him reach the Indonesian district of Bogor, where he joined a small community of Hazaras all waiting to go to Australia. Like him, they all had landed there after bribing their way through the Indonesian prisons and paying heavy amounts of money to human smugglers along the way. After many a twist and turn, Manavi managed to secure a berth on the ill-fated boat to Christmas Island.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are around 8,262 registered asylum seekers including Hazaras. Since the country is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees, it therefore, does not let anyone stay as a refugee on its territory. But the UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration (IOM) run small centres within Indonesia where applications are processed for refugee status and those who get that status are then resettled in other countries. Of the many thousand asylum seekers in Indonesia, only 2,078 have received the status of refugees from the UNHCR, with the cases of more than 750 sent to different countries for resettlement. Hazaras cannot legally find work in Indonesia and even if they are under UNHCR’s watch, they have to survive on a meagre monthly stipend. “I live in a community house in Yogyakarta under the supervision of UNHCR and IOM. There are 40 Hazaras here. We are not allowed to work but we can roam around the city,” Manavi tells the Herald.

Brain drain

According to the HRCP, Hazaras leaving Pakistan are not illiterate and poor— as is generally the case with economic migrants from other parts of the country. “Among them are businessmen, highly educated workers and senior government officials,” says Khan of HRCP.

Amjad Hussain, 40, a senior Hazara journalist, is one of them. Till 2010, he was based in Quetta, working as a reporter with a prominent private television news channel. Then, he started receiving death threats. While he was in Islamabad on a reporting assignment, his best friend was shot on April 16, 2010, right outside the main entrance of the bank where he was working, on Quetta’s Jinnah Road. He succumbed to his wounds before reaching the hospital. When a large number of people from the Hazara community gathered at the hospital to receive his body, a suicide bomber exploded himself at the entrance of the emergency ward, killing many more.

Hussain received a call the same night. “The person on the phone told me that I was his next target,” he says. His employer transferred him to Islamabad for his safety but he kept receiving warnings against reporting under his own name. The threats also made him write to the then Australian Prime Minister and the Australian immigration minister, asking them for a work visa. But his only option was a refugee status.

Knowing that life in Australia would not be easy as a refugee, Hussain, however, decided that it would definitely be “more promising than staying in Pakistan,” where he faced constant threats to his life. He now lives in Australia waiting to become a legal refugee, having left behind a long and successful career in journalism, as well as his wife and two children.

Most Hazaras choose Australia as their best bet, because they have community support there. As they generally are a close- knit society, they are offered all kinds of help from the community upon reaching there.

Even the few fortunate ones who, like Hussain, are able to make it to Australia on legal documents, may have to wait for over a year to have their applications for refugee status approved. Faced with ever-increasing numbers of asylum seekers and economic migrants trying to reach Australia, the government there has tightened its border control and made its immigration rules and regulations very stringent. For instance, anyone applying for asylum in Australia on the basis of a threat to his life, while in Pakistan, must provide evidence of the threat. Many Hazara families in Quetta and Karachi, indeed, meticulously put together all photographic evidence of any attacks against them, in case they need it to apply for asylum in Australia.

Australian authorities are also making a lot of effort to limit the number of asylum seekers, including clamping down on human traffickers as well as working closely with countries where most asylum seekers originate from. Australian officials, for instance, are collaborating with Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to ensure that those leaving Pakistani airports and other exit points for Australia have valid travel documents. For those trying to reach Australia by boat, rules and regulations have become even stricter. The Australian High Commission in Pakistan has put up huge bilingual billboards – in Urdu and Hazargi – in Quetta to warn potential migrants that anyone seeking to illegally enter Australia by boat “will never make Australia [their] home”.

Journalist Hussain, says these precautions will deter few, if any, Hazaras from trying to leave Pakistan. They face a certain death if they stay in Quetta or Karachi but, if they try to make it to Australia; they have a slim chance of surviving. They will always be ready to take that chance, no matter how slim, he tells the Herald.

This report was originally published on Click on this link to read timeline of Hazara Killing in Pakistan in the past decade:

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Hundreds of migrant children behind bars in Indonesia

April 27, 2014

Hundreds of migrant children behind bars in Indonesia

A boy in his room at the shelter for unaccompanied minors in Jakarta.

Saleem Ali* was just 13 when his mother decided that paying strangers to smuggle him through several countries in the hope of reaching Australia was safer than keeping him with her and his sisters in Quetta, southwestern Pakistan.
The family had sought sanctuary in Quetta from the persecution they faced in Afghanistan as Shia Hazaras but, according to Ali, “my brother was killed by terrorists and (my mother) didn’t want the same to happen to me.”
Raising the smugglers’ fee was difficult, he added. “She had to borrow the money.”
Another brother had made it to Australia a year earlier using the same route that Ali’s smugglers used through Thailand, Malaysia and, finally, Indonesia.
“I was very scared,” Ali told IRIN. “I travelled with strangers.” He assumed, though, that he would soon join his brother in Australia.
Instead, his journey ended at one of two shelters for unaccompanied migrant children in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.
He was transferred there five months ago after registering with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) soon after arriving in the country. By then, Australia had implemented Operation Sovereign Borders and fewer smugglers’ boats were departing from Indonesia, while those that did were intercepted and turned back.
According to UNHCR, about 5% of the more than 10,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia are
so-called unaccompanied minors — children who have made often long and perilous journeys without a parent or guardian to care for them.
Indonesian law makes no provision for such children and although the country has ratified the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, which obliges it to assign guardians to unaccompanied children, it has not done so.
Ali was fortunate to end up at the shelter. Currently, about 100 unaccompanied minors, most of them from Afghanistan, but also from Myanmar and a handful of other nationalities, are being held at 13 immigration detention centres across Indonesia, while a further 264 children are in detention with their families, according to UNHCR.
Without guardianship, some children remain in detention for extended periods until space opens up in one of only three shelters.  Ghulam Rahimi*, 17, is an Afghan refugee from Iran. He was one of 25 unaccompanied minors detained in one room at the immigration detention centre in Makassar on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island.
The detention centre in Makassar on Sulawesi Island is said to be one of the better ones.
Detainees are not confined to their rooms except at night time, they are allowed to cook their own food and many of them have cell phones they use to stay in touch with family.
Nevertheless, said the centre’s director, Huntal Hamonangan, “Our detention centre was not created for unaccompanied minors and families.”
When IRIN visited, 25 unaccompanied minors, mostly teenage boys from Afghanistan, were sharing one room. “It’s very hot and it’s so crowded that we can’t turn over at night,” said one of the boys, who has already been there for seven months.
A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch described the arbitrary detention of migrant children in Indonesia in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions for months or even years as having a severe impact on their physical and mental health, with many experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
In some cases, minors share cells with adults who sexually abuse them, said Fahra Amiroeddin, deputy programme manager at Church World Service (CWS), which manages the two Jakarta shelters in partnership with UNHCR.
A number of child migrants interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report said they had experienced beatings by immigration guards or adult detainees while in detention.
“The guards beat us and punished us for no reason,” said Jalil, 18, from Pakistan, and who was just 16 when he was taken to a detention centre in Bali following a failed attempt to reach Australia in a smugglers’ boat.
He described conditions at the detention centre where he spent the next year as “dangerous”.
He told IRIN: “The guards beat us and punished us for no reason.” When he and some other detainees went on a hunger strike to protest their incarceration, the guards beat his cell mate so badly that he was “in bed for a month”.
The Human Rights Watch report alleges that an Afghan migrant died after he was severely beaten by guards at an immigration detention centre in Pontianak in 2012 following an escape attempt.
Three other asylum seekers who had tried to escape with him were also hospitalised, including a 17-year-old unaccompanied minor.
Ten employees at the centre subsequently received 10-month prison sentences for assault, but the report said, “The government has not launched a systematic review of physical abuse in the immigration detention system,” nor has a complaints mechanism for detainees been put in place.
After three months, Jalil was interviewed by UNHCR and a month later he was granted refugee status, but he spent another seven months in detention before being transferred to one of the CWS shelters in Jakarta.
Although UNHCR can request the release of unaccompanied minors from detention, their release depends on finding somewhere safe to accommodate them. Besides the CWS shelters, the only other shelter in Medan, North Sumatra, is operated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in conjunction with the department of social welfare.
“We have limited space,” said CWS programme manager Dino Satria, noting that their two shelters are currently accommodating 70 boys, more than half of whom were transferred there after a period in detention (female unaccompanied minors are rare but CWS has placed one with a foster family and another at a government-run safe house).
“It’s good for me (here) because I can study and wait for resettlement,” said Abdul Fatun*, 17, from Myanmar, who arrived at one of the shelters a few weeks ago after a 10-month stint in detention.
In fact, opportunities to study are mainly limited to language classes and activities offered at the shelter.
“Accessing formal education is a big problem because most can’t speak Bahasa (Indonesia’s official language) and that’s a requirement for schools here,” said Satria. Fatun’s chances of resettlement are also slim.
In 2013, only five of the shelters’ residents were resettled. “Most are just waiting to turn 18, then they have to move out,” Satria said, adding that IOM usually offers them accommodation in refugee housing that it manages in a number of locations in Jakarta.
Jalil is staying in one such building where he passes the time studying English. After nearly 18 months in Indonesia, there is a good possibility he will be resettled in the USA.
“I’ve done the interview, I’m just waiting for medical clearance,” he said.
UNHCR grants refugee status in about 75 to 85% of cases in Indonesia. For the relatively small number of unaccompanied minors whose applications are rejected, options are very limited.
Deportation is rarely used by Indonesia’s immigration authorities. In a small number of cases — just three in 2013 — IOM helps them to return home voluntarily.
*All names changed.


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Bogor authorities to evict asylum seekers

April 12, 2014

Hard life: Two Afghan refugees, Ishaq Ali (left) and Qurban Ali, repair water pipes leading to their rented house in Batulayang village, Cisarua district, Bogor, last week. Bogor authorities were to launch raid on illegals living on the Puncak mountainous resort on Monday. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Hard life: Two Afghan refugees, Ishaq Ali (left) and Qurban Ali, repair water pipes leading to their rented house in Batulayang village, Cisarua district, Bogor, last week. Bogor authorities were to launch raid on illegals living on the Puncak mountainous resort on Monday. (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Bogor authorities are set to crack down on asylum seekers and refugees in the mountainous resort region of Puncak, although many local people have no objection to their presence and activities, which have reportedly caused no trouble for the community. 

Residents of Batu Kasur village in Batulayang said the asylum seekers and refugees, who have left their home countries in the Middle East, should not be removed, but that the relevant authorities should instead help them to solve their problems.

The villagers’ testimonies contradict a recent statement from a Bogor official, which said that the asylum seekers and refugees had caused trouble for local people.

“We want the regency of Bogor to be free of [asylum seekers] due to the trouble they have caused to local communities,” Bogor public security agency head Rizal Hidayat said.

He said last week that residents had complain about unruly behavior from the asylum seekers, such as bringing home sex workers and being rowdy. He added that their presence had become a nuisance.

A large number of asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, are using the Puncak area of Bogor regency as a place of transit while they apply for official refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Jakarta.

Most of them hope to reach a third country such as Australia, due to the peaceful conditions and the perceived job prospects there.

In contrast to Rizal’s statement, 60-year-old vendor Popon said that she did not mind the asylum seekers living in her neighborhood because they all had exhibited good behavior and helped to boost the local economy.

“I don’t know about the asylum seekers in other villages, but over here, they do not cause any trouble,” Popon told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.

According to Waspud “Budi”, a Kuningan-born resident who is renting houses to asylum seekers and refugees in Batu Kasur, those living in his neighborhood are abiding by the rules set by the community.

“In order to live in this neighborhood, we give them a set of rules to abide by, including not disturbing the peace of residents, respecting a 10 p.m. noise curfew and not bringing sex workers into the homes. So far, they have not broken the rules,” Budi said on Sunday.

Budi added that the presence of the asylum seekers and refugees had benefitted the neighborhood economically.

“They spend money at our warung [food stalls] and markets, helping to boost the local economy. They are also helpful people, despite not speaking our language,” he added.

The majority of the asylum seekers cannot speak English or Indonesian. Due to the language barrier, many of them do not interact with local residents.

“We rarely interact with the locals directly, but at the mosques we exchange friendly looks,” said Qurban Ali, an Afghan-born refugee from Quetta, Pakistan, who has been living in Batu Kasur for eight months. He has only been learning English for three months and speaks no Indonesian.

Similarly, Ishaq Ali, a 33-year-old former school librarian from Jaghori, Afghanistan, who is fluent in English, said that despite the language barrier, he found the residents helpful.

“The residents here are helpful. Even though I speak very little Indonesian, it seems to be enough for them to understand me,” he said.

Qurban and Ishaq, who are not related, are both Afghan-born asylum seekers. They have applied for official refugee status from the UNHCR office, and each share a house with four or five other Afghanis in Batu Kasur village. 

Qurban, a father of five who was previously a dried fruit merchant in Quetta, received his refugee card from the UNHCR eight months ago. After being granted legal refugee status, the UN said that he would be relocated to Australia. However, Qurban does not know when that will happen.

Ishaq has not yet received his card, due to the fact that he has only been in Indonesia for around a month.

When asked about the prospect of being evicted by the Bogor government, both men were unsure where they would go if they were asked to leave their current homes.

“If the [Bogor] government asks us to leave this area, I don’t know where I could go,” Qurban remarked.

According to the Bogor Immigration Office, 254 refugees are registered in Bogor regency. Over recent years, the administration has sent 257 asylum seekers to detention centers across Indonesia. 

On April 14, the Bogor Immigration Office — along with the Bogor public security agency, the police and the Law and Human Rights Ministry — intends to conduct a campaign to inform local residents, as well as the asylum seekers and refugees, of the plan to eject them from Bogor regency. 

The campaign will involve informing residents that lease their houses to the asylum seekers and refugees of the plan.


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