Category Archives: Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

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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Asylum seeker boat crashes onto reef after being turned back by Australian ship: Indonesian police

June 02, 2015 | ABC News

Indonesian police say a boat carrying 65 asylum seekers has crashed onto a reef after being turned back by Australian authorities.

Those aboard — 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis, one person from Myanmar and five additional crew — told Indonesian police they were trying to get to New Zealand.

There were four women and three toddlers on board.

They are now being held on Rote Island off West Timor after crashing onto a reef near the remote Landuti Island.

One of the crew members fled from police and has not been located.

Island chief of police senior commissioner Hidayat told the ABC the latest boat was intercepted by an Australian border patrol after setting off from West Java on May 5.

The asylum seekers told police the Australians transferred them onto a more seaworthy wooden boat, given dried fruit, biscuits, fuel and life jackets and escorted back to Indonesian waters.

The asylum seekers were found on Monday by fishermen after the crash.

They will be transferred to Kupang in West Timor on Tuesday.

The Australian Government is yet to respond to the claims.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand recently ended the practice of turning asylum seeker boats away.


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South-East Asian migrant crisis: Claims up to 200 dead with 14 people, including seven children, dead before boat turned around by navies

May 17, 2015 | ABC News

Rohingyas at Langsa, Aceh, showing their UNHCR refugee cards

PHOTO: Rohingyas including Muhammad Rafique (right) at Langsa, Aceh, show their UNHCR refugee cards.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.

The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.

It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.

The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.

It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.

There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.

“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.

But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.

“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing [us] every day,” he said.

Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters

The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.

According to the passengers:

  • Three to four boats left Bangladesh and Myanmar up to two months ago
  • Off the coast of Thailand, smugglers transferred them all to a larger boat
  • At least some of the smugglers, and the captain, abandoned ship
  • The passengers, without training or guidance, attempted to reach Malaysia
  • As food and water ran out, violent clashes broke out, leaving seven dead
  • Another seven children reportedly died during the voyage
  • Last week they reached Indonesian waters
  • The Indonesian Navy gave them some supplies but turned them towards Malaysia
  • The Malaysian Navy also gave them supplies and turned them away
  • Some claim 100-200 people drowned in the entire ordeal, but this can not be verified
  • Indonesian fishermen rescued 677 people from the boat on Thursday

From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.

Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.

Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.

Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.

Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.

Major General Basya told the ABC: “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.

He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.

Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.

The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.

The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.

It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.

“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”

Rescued asylum seeker receives medical treatment in Aceh

PHOTO: Rescued migrants receive medical treatment upon their arrival in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province.(AFP: Chaideer Mahyuddin)

‘They were on the sea for four months, no food, no bedding’

Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.

Dr Iqbal Foriza, who is co-ordinating medical provision at the makeshift refugee camp, said 25 people were admitted to hospital with their bodies having gone into shock from the ordeal.

“The worst is heavy shock. They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal said.

On a military camp bed last night, a Bangladeshi woman fanned her three-year-old daughter to keep away mosquitoes, which can be deadly in Indonesia.

The tiny girl was still hooked up to a drip, but Dr Foriza said she was being monitored every three hours.

The ordeal had some people rethinking their plans to get to Malaysia.

“We [want to] go back to Bangladesh immediately. Please help,” Mr Abdur Rahim said.

Muhammad Rafique, a Rohingya, still wanted to get to Australia via Malaysia, with the help of people smugglers.

“First time I will go Malaysia, I will [collect] some money, pay the broker. After I go to Australia to study,” he said.

When the ABC asked him if he knew Australia did not accept people who came by boat he did not understand.

Young rescued Rohingya asylum seeker in the dome tent

PHOTO: Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished and a number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips. (ABC News: George Roberts)

Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees

Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.

“It is a major gesture,” he said.

“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.

“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”

Malaysia said its foreign minister would meet with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the crisis.

Foreign minister Anifah Aman was to meet Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday, a government official said.

That would be followed by separate talks between Mr Anifah and Thai foreign minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, “most probably on Wednesday”.


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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
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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