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NSW gives asylum seekers travel concessions ‘to help the vulnerable’

June 26, 2015 | the guardian

Mike Baird announces move at odds with his federal counterparts, saying: ‘We have a responsibility to help those who have nowhere else to turn’

The New South Wales premier, Mike Baird, has outlined the most generous travel concessions to asylum seekers of any state government, declaring there is little point in having a strong economy unless it is used to help the vulnerable.

Baird has described asylum seekers as “one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line” and said it was important to provide travel concessions because services for them are dispersed, which can increase social isolation.

His move, coming two days after the state budget, is a clear contrast to the Coalition’s stance towards asylum seekers at a federal level, which has centred on Tony Abbott’s “stop the boats” campaign to ensure those at sea do not reach Australia.
Baird’s announcement also comes weeks after his friend and fellow Liberal leader, the prime minister Tony Abbott, refused to rule out that Australian officials had paid people smugglers to turn back to Indonesia. He used several interviews to suggest his government would stop asylum seeker boats “by hook or by crook”.

Under the NSW changes, the adults in the 8,000-strong group of eligible asylum seekers will be able to claim a gold pension concession card from 1 January 2016, which means applicants will receive a $2.50 ticket for all-day travel across state transport systems.

“I am of the view that Australia is the lucky country and we have a responsibility to help those who have nowhere else to turn,” Baird said. “NSW is Australia’s economic powerhouse but there is little point in having a strong economy unless we use this strength to help the vulnerable among us.

“NSW has shown we are prepared to help asylum seekers in our community and we want to do even more. This group is one of the most vulnerable in our society, often living below the poverty line. Evidence suggests that lack of access to dispersed services is a key impediment to their health and wellbeing.”

Non-government community agencies have previously been funding transport for asylum seekers in NSW.

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“Being unable to travel creates social isolation which leads to deteriorating mental and physical health,” the premier said. “This change allows those NGOs to be putting more of their limited resources into food, counselling and housing – where it is needed most.”

To be eligible, asylum seekers must holding a bridging visa or be applying for one; be over 17 years of age; and be receiving aid from a designated agency.

At an Australia Day lunch in January, before the state election in March, Baird called on the prime minister to do more to help refugees, saying Australia was a “lucky country” and its people should “open our arms to those around the world who are much less fortunate than us”.

Last month the premier repeated the sentiment when the NSW government became the first state to sign up in principle to the federal safe haven enterprise visa scheme, which gives people assessed to be refugees the opportunity to gain five-year visas if they are prepared to work or study outside cities.

“As Australia’s economic powerhouse, NSW has an obligation to open its arms to those who are genuine refugees,” he said, adding that the state stood ready to “take more than our fair share”.

Baird’s father, Bruce, is a former state minister and federal Liberal MP who opposed the Howard government’s mandatory detention of asylum seekers. He now chairs the refugee resettlement advisory committee under Australia’s social services minister, Scott Morrison.

The NSW concession will allow eligible asylum seekers to travel on the Opal network at a capped price of $2.50 a day, equivalent to the gold Opal card.

In Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, asylum seekers receive concessions of 50% off regular fares. In Victoria the daily fare is capped at $3.76 and in the ACT it is capped at $4.40.

The NSW transport minister, Andrew Constance, said the changes would allow more asylum seekers to “participate more fully in our society”.

“Many of the asylum seekers in NSW are at the very start of the process of applying for a protection visa,” Constance said. “This means that they need access to a wide range of services in order to navigate this process and rebuild their lives.”

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/jun/26/nsw-gives-asylum-seekers-travel-concessions-to-help-the-vulnerable

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Asylum-seekers set off with GPS but no crew

July 11, 2013

NAVY and Customs officers are concerned that people smugglers may have trialled a crewless boat after Border Protection Command was forced to rescue more than 100 Sudanese asylum-seekers in international waters who claimed they were put into the Java sea for Christmas Island with only a GPS to guide them.

The 101 Sudanese were drifting in a broken-down boat in international waters 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island on Friday when the HMAS Larrakia responded to their distress call. A seaworthy asylum boat with crew can travel from Indonesia to Christmas Island in 30 hours but the Sudanese had been in the water for four days when they were located, The Australian has been told.

A spokeswoman for Border Protection Command confirmed yesterday that there was no crew onboard the asylum boat when the Australian navy frigate arrived on the scene.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison yesterday warned boat arrivals would pass the point of “no return” if Kevin Rudd was elected at this year’s federal poll.

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Immigration Minister Tony Burke hit back at Mr Morrison last night, saying his request for the Coalition frontbencher to “come to the table for a calm and mature discussion of the issues is not going well”.

“We need to deal with the problems of today, not photocopy the policies of the past, which people smugglers now know how to subvert,” he said.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare blamed an almost $1 billion blowout in the government’s contract with detention service provider Serco on the Coalition’s refusal to co-operate.

“I’d say this is what happens when you can’t get political parties in Australia to work together on this,” he said.

Mr Clare also told Sky News he was “not sure” why seven asylum-seekers jumped overboard when their vessel was approached by authorities last month.

“People smugglers make a million dollars a boat, and they know that by adapting their strategy to the different things that Border Protection might do, they can make sure that they can get the money and get people on to boats,” he said.

The Australian has been told that the Sudanese found without crew last Friday later told immigration officials that people smugglers in Indonesia gave them a GPS and sent them on their way.

Sri Lankan fishermen who travel direct from their homeland usually do not have crew, but many are able sailors.

And while it has long been common for an experienced captain to hand over an asylum boat to less-experienced crew for the final part of the journey to Christmas Island, tactics over the past year have angered rescuers. Last July, an experienced Indonesian people-smuggling captain left two boys, aged 13 and 14, to steer asylum-seekers towards the Australian territory of Christmas Island. The following month, the Indonesian crew of an asylum boat that was supposedly stricken shocked rescuers when they drove off in it.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/asylum-seekers-set-off-with-gps-but-no-crew/story-fn9hm1gu-1226677349749

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A mother and child exhausted: faces of the many who flee by sea

The Age | March 31, 2013

A mother and child are processed by Australian Customs and Department of<br />Immigration staff as several more boatloads of asylum seekers arrive<br />at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.<br />28th March 2013<br />Photo: Wolter Peeters

A mother and child are processed by Australian Customs and Department of
Immigration staff as several more boatloads of asylum seekers arrive
at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.
28th March 2013
Photo: Wolter Peeters

She sits in a wheelchair looking utterly defeated, a small child in her lap. She appears to be in her mid to late 30s, but it is difficult to tell through her exhaustion. Her daughter’s ears sparkle with little gold earrings and her cheeks glisten with tears.

We don’t know the woman’s name or the reason she is here but she is one of about 1000 people who made the same journey to Christmas Island’s jetty at Flying Fish Cove this week.

A record number of asylum seekers have come to Australian shores this year – more than 3300 have arrived by boat, compared with 1300 at the same time last year. The monsoon season – which slowed the boats to a trickle from November to February – is easing although not yet over.

This week Fairfax Media witnessed the quiet desperation of people as they arrived at the far-flung outpost of Australia.

As politicians quibbled in Canberra and across the mainland about who should be blamed for the boats, Indonesian fishing vessels continued their stubborn appearance on the horizon past Christmas Island.

The steady arrivals continue to occur amid Canberra’s piecemeal implementation of the Houston panel’s comprehensive recommendations to deal with the issue.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says Australia is not alone in recording a surge in arrivals.

In 2012 almost half a million people filed claims for refugee protection around the world, the highest number in a decade and 8 per cent more than the previous year.

Source: http://m.theage.com.au/national/a-mother-and-child-exhausted-faces-of-the-many-who-flee-by-sea-20130329-2gz6s.html

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Limbo 24/7 – tales from the cages of detention (Exhibition)

March 10, 2013

limbo 1finish1

Kommonground presents the opening night of a collaborative installation of film, digital storytelling and live performance that captures the lived experiences of asylum seekers.

Created with filmmakers, photographers, storytellers across three generations, musicians and the asylum seeker community.

Inspired by recent events and policies affecting asylum seekers and refugees.

With Kavisha Mazzella, Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Phil Carroll. Project Created and directed by Jema Stellato Pledger.

The exhibition will remain at the Northcote Town Hall until 27th March.

DATE: Thursday March 21st

TIME: 7pm (60 mins approx)

VENUE: Northcote Town Hall Studio 2

TICKETS: Full $14, Concession $10, Group 6 or more $10, Child $5

Suitable for ages 10+

Buy tickets from here: http://sa2.seatadvisor.com/sabo/servlets/TicketRequest?eventId=100602648&presenter=AUNORTHCOTE&venue=&event=LIMBO

Contains images of war that may be confronting to young or sensitive audience members.

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Cricketers discourage asylum seekers from sea journeys

February 24, 2013

Three wickets ... Lasith Malinga sends down a delivery

Photo: Sri Lankan cricketer Lasith Malinga will appear in the Australian Government’s anti-people smuggling ad campaign. (Getty Images)

Sri Lankan cricketers are fronting an advertising campaign by the Australian Government to discourage asylum seekers from taking boat journeys to Australia.

Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan have signed on to the campaign, which targets ethnic communities in Australia to tell their relatives not to risk their lives.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Brendan O’Connor says it is an important part of the government’s strategy to stop people smuggling.

“This is actually communicating directly to diaspora communities,” he said.

“Sending the message that not only is it too dangerous to take these perilous journeys, but also to communicate to them we have new laws since August last year that will give them no advantage.”

The ‘Don’t be sorry’ campaign comes in the wake of the deaths of 98 Burmese asylum seekers at sea earlier this week.

Thirty-two people were picked up by the Sri Lankan Navy after surviving for two months drifting at sea.

The bodies of those who died of starvation and dehydration during the voyage were reportedly thrown overboard.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-02-25/an-nauru-detainees-join-hunger-strike/4537904

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271 Poets from 88 Countries Demand Halt to Genocide against Hazara People

February 10, 2013

Credit: HazaraPeople.com

271 noted poets from 88 countries have signed an open letter addressed to The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and President of the United States, Barack Obama, asking them to take steps to insure the security and safety of the Hazara people in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(PRWEB) February 10, 2013

271 noted poets including Nobel, Pulitzer, continental and national literary prize winners as well as presidents of international poetry festivals, presidents of PEN clubs, and writers associations from 88 countries have signed an open letter to world leaders, declaring their solidarity with the Hazara people. For more than a century, the Hazara people of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been victims of systematic crimes such as genocide, slavery, sexual abuse, war crimes and discrimination.
The letter is addressed to The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and President of the United States, Barack Obama, asking them to take steps to insure the security and safety of the Hazara people.

Hazara poet, Kamran Mir Hazar, who crafted the letter notes, “Article two of the Convention on Genocide describes the dire situation of the Hazaras, and the world must no longer ignore the ongoing ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Hazaras.”

In Afghanistan, even with thousands of international troops deployed, Hazaras are regularly attacked by Afghan Kuchis, backed by the Taliban and the Afghan government. Hazara roads are blocked by Taliban gunmen. Hazara cars are halted and its passengers murdered. In central Afghanistan, a huge population of Hazaras is marginalized, and is denied basic legal rights.

As a result, millions of Hazaras have fled Afghanistan, creating terrible and unnecessary refugee situations in countries like Turkey, Greece, Australia, and Indonesia. In Pakistan as recently as Thursday, January 10, 2013, more than one-hundred Hazaras were killed in an organized terrorist attack in Quetta, Pakistan.

Poets world-wide asks world leaders to declare of a state of emergency regarding the Hazara situation in Afghanistan; to pressure Afghan and Pakistani governments to stop discrimination and stop supporting terrorists groups; to grant asylum to Hazara asylum seekers; establish an international Truth Commission to investigate systematic crimes against Hazaras; to open cases concerning genocide and human rights violations in international courts such as the ICC; to protect Hazaras in Afghanistan with international troops. We appeal to international media to investigate and report on activities against Hazaras, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Open Letter from Poets World-wide with signers is available in English, Spanish, Italian, Hazaragi/Dari, and Azeri languages on http://www.HazaraRights.com

—————–
Hazara People International Network:
http://www.hazarapeople.com

Afghanistan: Massacres of Hazaras in Afghanistan
Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghanistan/
http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/3ae6a87c4.html

Hazaras: Afghanistan’s Outsiders
National Geographic
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/02/afghanistan-hazara/phil-zabriskie-text

and:
http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=HBH18931020.2.10.4&srpos=2&e=01-10-1893-24-10-1893–10–1–on–0hazara–

Kamran Mir Hazar
Hazara People Rights
+47.96666769

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Syria’s Afghan Refugees Trapped in a Double Crisis

January 29, 2013

Ahmad Shuja – He tweets at @AhmadShuja.

There are around 2,000 Afghans living in Syria. Most are Shiites and belong to the Hazara ethnic group. Their migration to Syria occurred in several small waves, with most fleeing Afghanistan to escape ethno-religious persecution and a few settling in the country after their pilgrimage to the holy Shiite sites in the country. Most Afghan refugees and settlers in Syria are based in and around the capital Damascus.

As the armed conflict has been raging in Syria for about two years, these refugees have suffered violence, threats and forced displacement. The ordeal began in July last year when violence spread to the Syeda Zainab area around Damascus. The Afghan refugees were evicted from the area by force, and they live in makeshift shelters facing dire conditions now, according to the refugees.

The Syrian conflict’s broad Alawite vs. non-Alawite dimension means the rebels identify the Afghan Shiites as being close to the Alawites — and therefore close to the Assad regime. But the Afghan refugees are claiming neutrality, which not only denies them the protection of the Alawite government but also makes the Alawite population suspicious and hostile towards them. They are caught in a trap. And, to make matters worse, the Afghan refugees are easily identifiable by their Asiatic features and foreign accents, making them easy targets for attacks by all sides.

As the violence in Syria drags on while the international community puzzles over a viable solution, these Afghan refugees in Syria are calling for help. UN Dispatch received a letter from the Afghan-Syrian community detailing violence and discrimination motivated by religious, racial and political differences. The letter warns of a disaster if the situation goes unaddressed.

We withhold the identity of the correspondent of the letter for safety reasons, but publish excepts from it. The writer is not a native english speaker, but the urgency of his or her pleas come through quite clearly.

With all due respect,

We, the Afghan Refugees [in Syria], hope to […] solve part of our problems and critical conditions by sharing it with you as fellow-creatures and those who care about humanity and oppressed people all over the world via this open letter.

The letter details incidents of torture, religious persecution and other violence, including deaths and injuries from mortar shells.

[T]he current situation of Afghan Refugees in the time of the conflict in Syria is a serious an exceptional condition. Afghan Refugees are victimized of torture and they have been threatened just because they are different and they believe in a religion as called “Shiite”. Still one Afghan Refugee has been shouted as she was in a serious condition at hospital, several Afghan Refugees has been captured just because they are “Shiite”! three days ago on 5/1/2013 two young Afghan refugees who was 17 and 18 years old they killed by mortar and 7 others where seriously injured.

The refugees forcefully evicted from the Syeda Zainab area face dire conditions:

Now it is about for 6 months we are staying at Hotels and buildings, some Refugees houses has been stolen and some of them burned and destroyed. Till now some Refugees who trying to take some their stuff from their houses they have been captured and some of them have been threatened.

Some have tried to flee Syria into Turkey, but their fate remains uncertain:

Some Refugees because of well[-founded] fear and feeling unsafe they have been to independently smuggle themselves illegally toward of Turkey till now no one knows what happened to them, they left Syria without of any value document only they had the UNHCR Refugee certificate.

Therefore, still several times we have contacted the UNHCR office in Damascus but unfortunately still we are living in the same situation….UNHCR office always declares that they are not able to help regarding the residency documents and they cannot offer any assistance to solve this problem at all…

The letter warns of a humanitarian crisis if the community’s concerns aren’t heeded:

even it is possible [that] if…our serious condition [is not solved], it will happen a serious disaster and also most other Refugees will chose to independently smuggle themselves out of Syria while itself it can be a serious human disaster because they will trying to go out without of passport, visa and any other valuable document

Most Afghan refugees don’t have the proper travel documents, so they face serious challenges as they attempt to flee the country,  including arrests by authorities who are increasingly suspicious of undocumented outsiders:

as most Afghan Refugees they entered Syria illegally and they are lack of Syrian residence permit . As a result, still some Refugees have been arrested in the way between Damascus and Aleppo toward of Turkey.

Most Afghan refugees in Syria have attempted to smuggle themselves out, but the ones who remain have nowhere to go because the UNHCR cannot assist them and the authorities are cracking down. The letter says women and children are most vulnerable and warns that a potential humanitarian disaster might occur if the situation is not resolved:

Now, from a large number of Afghan Refugees only remaining those who are that even they are not able to fled, they are just waiting for the assistance of UNHCR, or they will be the sacrifice of torture just because they are the oppressed people and they don’t have any other shelter in order to be survive!

we are living in a serious bad conditions such as illegal status problems, security, and the unknown future.

But our main problems is the security problem as we are not able to protect of our children and women who are fall under a serious condition.

It has become unbearable for us to continue living in Syria. And most of the afghan Refugees are illegal in Syria…and in current situation we face serious legal problems and other kinds of problems because of not having legal residency…and with having this problem we are not able to continue living safely at all, especially in the current unrest situation where the security forces has become very strict in looking for the illegal residents and arrest them and then deport them. As still several cases happened.

Best regards,
Afghan Refugees, Damascus Syria

Source: http://www.undispatch.com/syrias-afghan-refugees-trapped-in-a-double-crisis

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