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.
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.
WASHINGTON — With the war in Afghanistan heating up, thousands of Afghan refugees are fleeing their country. But Iran and Pakistan, which house most of the Afghan refugees from previous cycles of violence, are increasingly unwelcoming. So the new exodus has begun to flow toward Europe, already inundated with Syria’s refugees.
Yet these Afghans have attracted little attention from Western policy makers; they do not seem to recognize the Afghans’ desperation, and the challenges their flight poses for Afghanistan, its neighbors and Europe. For Afghans, it is a recurring nightmare. Like previous exoduses going back to the 1970s, this one is stripping the country of precisely the professionals who are vital to its future as a modern state.
President Obama has an opportunity to change that on Thursday by putting the issue high on his agenda, and calling international attention to it, when he hosts Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in Washington.
The new surge of refugees began with the Taliban’s offensive this year, and intensified after fighting reached populated areas like Kunduz. Last month, employees at Afghanistan’s passport agency said they were issuing an average of 2,000 passports daily — triple the number of six months ago.
In recent decades, most Afghan refugees have wound up in Pakistan, which now hosts nearly three million. But refugees there complain that this year, officials have been forcing them to return home. The International Organization for Migration says 90,000 Pakistan-based Afghans did just that since January. Now the government refuses to extend identity cards for 1.5 million refugees, many of whom have been in Pakistan for decades, when their permits expire at year’s end.
Iran, too, has been deporting refugees. One reason is fear that Afghans with ties to the drug trade will compound Iran’s own drug-use problems.
Deportation can be a harsh sentence. Some returnees end up in United Nations camps near Jalalabad, a stronghold for former Taliban militants who joined the Islamic State. The danger may be worst for ethnic Hazaras; they are Shiite Muslims, and many fled slaughter by the Taliban.
Afghans cannot expect much help from their own government. One official American report says the State Department stopped funding a training program for Afghanistan’s refugee and repatriation ministry last year after finding the ministry corrupt and dysfunctional.
Helping Afghan refugees is not an easy issue for Pakistani officials, who already deal with a million internally displaced Pakistanis fleeing conflict in their own border areas.
So the Afghan exodus increasingly looks to Europe as its destination, after a perilous trek across Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean.
According to United Nations and European estimates, more than 20 percent of the roughly 500,000 people who have arrived this year via the Mediterranean have been Afghans.
The flow poses a serious challenge for Europe, which is already experiencing its greatest refugee crisis since World War II and needs no further scapegoats for its anti-immigration demagogues to attack.
But if Europe closes its doors to them, that would only shift the challenge back to Pakistan, where Afghans could be expected to resume arriving in greater numbers. Even in normal times, tens of thousands of Afghans pass back and forth monthly through two border checkpoints, most of them as legitimate temporary visitors. The temptation to cheat at those crossing points would increase even as other desperate Afghans stepped up the flow across more porous parts of the border. That would surely exacerbate a growing public resentment of Afghan refugees, whom many Pakistanis already associate with terrorism, drug abuse and a drag on their economy.
So the world must acknowledge the plain fact that Afghanistan’s refugees need help. Their own government, beleaguered by war and its own dysfunction, is not up for the task, and its two largest neighbors are increasingly indifferent to their plight.
It is unrealistic to expect Pakistan to voluntarily accept more Afghan refugees. Still, it should better help those already there. Mr. Obama should press Mr. Sharif to extend the identity cards about to expire. He should urge a more gradual and humane repatriation process. And he should assure Mr. Sharif that Americans remain committed to financial support for international aid programs that assist Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran — programs now under budgetary pressure.
Iran, which houses the second-largest Afghan refugee population, has extended the visas of 450,000 Afghans. Yet Afghans there also report forced deportations and other bad treatment. According to one recent report, Iranian border policemen shot and killed seven Afghans trying to enter the country. These policies must end.
As for the Western countries, the European nations whose troops took part in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan should ensure that Afghans are included in any European Union quotas that distribute refugees among member states. And Washington should expedite special visas for those Afghans who worked for the United States government or military and say that their lives are endangered. In September, at least 13,000 Afghans and Iraqis with that status were still waiting.
And, if security can be assured, international aid groups should accelerate the creation of safe zones within pacified areas in the country, where the United Nations says the total internally displaced population numbers nearly a million. These people need incentives to stay in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, some of Afghanistan’s other neighbors should band together to help. Bordering countries in Central Asia, along with Russia, China and Iran, all need more stability in Afghanistan and fear the specter of heavy refugee flows into their countries; they should pool funds to support the formation of permanent safe areas inside Afghanistan, in places like Bamian Province that still enjoy relative stability.
Given the lack of quick fixes for Afghanistan’s violence, corruption and economic distress, safe areas may be the best possible incentive for Afghans to remain in their country. It is only a stopgap, but one that might help keep a dangerous crisis in check.
Asylum seeker Hamid, a Hazara Afghan, received work rights three weeks ago and is now working as a paver and a bricklayer.
How sweet it is to wake to a new day – a day with a shape, a day with meaning. Hamid Ali rises early. He pours tea into a thermos, pulls on a vest and steps outside into the morning chill. Then he starts to smile.
“Two years I have been in Australia and there was nothing,” he says. “We had no permission to work, we could not go to school … all I could do was stay at home.”
Like thousands of other asylum seekers who came by boat after August 2012, Mr Ali has been under visa conditions that stopped him from getting a job and restricted him to a fraction of the dole, $31 a day, scarcely enough for rent. Days stretched into weeks, months into years.
But this morning, his first day back on the tools, the Pakistani Hazara is standing tall, surveying the construction site where he will be working as a brickie.
“I am bricklaying the fences here,” says Mr Ali. “Soon I will hopefully have bigger projects and can do a complete house.”
Australia’s strict visa rules that have forced asylum seekers to live in destitution are now being relaxed, with the federal government rubber-stamping new work approvals in numbers not seen for years.
Statistics obtained this week reveal a staggering 22,800 asylum seekers between January and September have been granted eligibility to start earning a living.
“In the same period last year, large numbers of illegal maritime arrivals remained in detention,” a Border Force spokeswoman said.
“Many were released on Bridging Visa E without work rights. A total of 62 had work rights.”
Of 25,000 boat arrivals now living in the community on bridging visas, more than 24,400 can now work.
Migrant resettlement service AMES said more than 2000 asylum seeker clients had received work rights, up from 350 in February.
“Work is not just about a pay cheque, it is a source of pride, self-reliance, improved health and sense of self-worth,” chief executive Cath Scarth said. “It gives structure and meaning to people’s lives and it is the fabric from which our society is wrought.”
The rush of new work approvals follows the federal government lifting a stay on processing asylum seeker protection claims and has begun a “fast-track” processing system.
But the controversial system has also drawn criticism from legal groups, which say it could lead to legitimate asylum seekers being sent back to persecution in their home countries. Asylum seekers will have a single opportunity to make their claim to the department and face more stringent limits on their right to appeal a negative decision.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis said the government was “giving with one hand while taking away with the other”.
“While it’s positive that people seeking asylum in our country have the right to work again, it comes after a long period where they were left without the ability to support themselves or their families,” he said. “Now they face the prospect of only being eligible for temporary protection from the war, violence and persecution they have escaped in their home country.”
The Brotherhood of St Laurence, which runs an asylum seeker employment program, has reported a “three-fold increase”, with 275 referrals between April and June. Spokeswoman Farah Farouque said the program was experiencing a “flurry” of new asylum seekers eager to work and contribute to society.
The victims, all male passengers, were plucked from their vehicles and shot dead from close range. -AP/FIle
MAZAR SHARIF: Unknown gunmen on Saturday killed 13 minority Hazaras travelling in two vehicles in a usually tranquil northern Afghan province, as President Ashraf Ghani implored international donors for renewed support to the “wounded country”.
The victims, all male passengers, were plucked from their vehicles and shot dead from close range in a rare attack targeting ethnic minorities.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the incident, but it comes as Taliban insurgents ramp up attacks amid a bitter leadership transition.
“The gunmen stopped two vehicles, lined up all the male passengers and shot them dead,” said Jafar Haidari, the governor of Zari district in Balkh, where the incident occurred.
“They spared the life of one woman who was in one of the vehicles. All the victims were Hazaras.” Abdul Razaq Qaderi, the deputy police chief of Balkh, confirmed the fatalities, adding that officials were investigating who was behind it.
The killings bore chilling similarities to another incident in Wardak province south of Kabul, where gunmen opened fire on a bus and killed 13 passengers in late March.
Attacks targeting Shia minorities in Afghanistan are not unheard of, but rare compared to neighbouring Pakistan.
Masked gunmen seized 31 Hazaras from a bus in the southern Afghan province of Zabul in late February as they were returning from Iran.
Nineteen of them were released in May in exchange for scores of Uzbek militant fighters held in government prisons.
Saturday’s killings came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani implored international donors for their continued support, saying the country faced a host of security and economic challenges.
“Rebuilding Afghanistan is going to be a long-term endeavour,” Ghani said at a conference of donors in Kabul attended by Western delegates and non-governmental organisations.
“Afghanistan is a wounded country. Widespread unemployment, a violent insurgency, and the advance of extremism across the region are increasing the likelihood that (our) economic reform agenda will be undone by political unrest,” added Ghani.
Taliban insurgents are stepping up their summer offensive launched in late April amid a simmering leadership succession dispute after the confirmation of longtime chief Mullah Omar’s death.
Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, a trusted deputy of Omar, was named as the insurgents’ new chief in late July, but the power transition has been acrimonious.
Afghan security forces, stretched on multiple fronts, are facing their first fighting season without the full support of US-led NATO forces.
NATO ended its combat mission in Afghanistan last December and pulled out the bulk of its troops although a 13,000-strong residual force remains for training and counter-terrorism operations.
Two weeks after being beaten and placed in a solitary cell, asylum seeker Mohammad Nasim Najafi was dead. These were his last days.
Mohammad Nasim Najafi: Supplied
It started with a night attack. Three weeks ago, a group of criminals broke into Mohammad Nasim Najafi’s room in the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre outside Perth, scattering his belongings and beating him.
Overcrowded prisons mean half of the detainees at the centre are convicted criminals rather than asylum seekers. Fearing for his life, Nasim managed to escape the attackers and took shelter in an office with Serco employees, the contractors who run the detention centre.
As yet, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has given no reason for what happened next. After being beaten by the gang – one of a number that jostle for control in Yongah – Nasim was placed in a solitary cell. His room was two metres by two metres and had no toilet. The card that allowed him to enter the main areas of the detention centre, including the gym and recreational facilities, was blocked.
By Friday, July 31, Nasim was dead. As his body was carried from the centre, loaded into an ambulance under a white sheet, fellow detainees chanted in volleys of Arabic and English: “He did not kill himself, the immigration killed him.”
The official response from the department of immigration is brief. It sheds no light on how the healthy 27-year-old might have died: “The department can confirm that a male detainee died at the Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre on Friday 31 July 2015. There was no indication of suicide or suspicious circumstances. The WA Police attended the centre and is conducting an investigation as per normal practices in such cases.”
This week, The Saturday Paper spoke to a number of detainees who were close to Nasim, including the last person he spoke to. The picture they paint is of a man denied proper medical care, an epileptic who died in detention because he was not properly monitored, who requested medical attention but was given only Panadol and sleeping tablets.
Nasim’s mother still lives in Hotqool, in Afghanistan. Ten years ago, her husband was killed by the Taliban. Now, her eldest son is dead. She hasn’t slept in the week since he died. She has stopped eating. When The Saturday Paper calls, her words are few and desperate. “Who killed my son? How did he die?” Her voice is pleading and full of sobs. Eventually, she drops the phone and all that can be heard are her cries. “I want my son back.”
Medical care lacking
After being moved into a solitary room, Nasim plunged into despair. He feared being assaulted again, and slept all day so he could remain awake at night. A fellow detainee recalled him saying, “Why was I moved and locked away here and not those that attacked me?”
Shahid, who did not want to use his real name, had known Nasim for almost three years in Yongah detention centre. They were together much of the time, including the night before Nasim died. “We spent time together on Thursday until 11pm,” he says. “I went to sleep and he went to his room.”
The same night, Nasim spoke with his fiancée in India. “He called me on Thursday night, I think. I am confused and mix up the days now,” she says through tears. “We spoke about half an hour. He did not tell me anything about the camp. He thought I might be upset. Just told me that he was tired of being away from each other and tired of the camp. He said that he will get out another month and then see me.”
Earlier, he wrote her a brief post on Facebook: “I should confess that unkind life has created so much distance between us. I have been thrown into a cage that I can’t get out. Tonight, the starless roof of this cage is so low on me. I am left what to write about.”
Detainees at Yongah say medical care inside detention is very poor. About 600 detainees have access to only one doctor. The medical centre is closed after 5pm. If detainees want to see a doctor, they have to fill a request form, and then wait at least four days. “When I go to doctor and tell him that I am sick, they don’t listen to us or believe us,” Shahid says. “Even when they see me vomit as if I’m dying, they say, ‘We can’t cure it. When you get out from detention, you feel better.’ ” Another detainee, from Iraq, said: “I go doctor. Me sick. Panadol. Water.”
The immigration department says asylum seekers in the centre have “access to appropriate healthcare and medical treatment at a standard at least comparable to the healthcare available to the Australian community generally”.
Two weeks ago, Nasim saw the centre’s doctor. “They just gave him Panadol and sleeping pills,” a detainee says. “He was left alone there. If there was another person with him, he would shake him, rub his body to circulate blood.”
The department would not confirm whether or not it was aware of Nasim’s epilepsy, although fellow detainees say Nasim was taking medication for the condition and it had been brought to Serco’s attention many times. Nasim told Shahid he had developed the disease while in detention. His family and fiancée said he had no health problems or heart diseases. Shahid said Nasim had collapsed before, while the pair were in the centre’s computer room. “I leaned on his back to stop him from falling,” says Shahid. “I called Serco. In the meantime, another person came and rubbed his palm and chest. It took about four minutes [for Nasim] to come to consciousness again.”
Detainees say Nasim was not properly checked while in his solitary cell, and that this was not appropriate for a person with a pre-existing medical condition. “If a person is dead in his bed, they would not know because they think he is asleep,” a detainee says. “The only time they would wake up a person would be to get his signature for a doctor’s appointment or if he has not eaten his delivered food. I believe they realised far too late that Nasim was dead.”
Yongah Hill detention centre is located about 90 kilometres north-east of Perth and was built to house asylum seekers. The sprawling demountables now house 600 detainees, the majority of whom are convicted criminals and visa overstayers awaiting deportation. Nasim’s roommate, before he was moved to another compound, was an American convicted of attempted murder while in Australia. After serving his jail sentence, he was transferred to Yongah, where for the past five months he has been awaiting deportation.
Asylum seekers detained at the centre report crimes and gang violence, as well as a spate of random beatings. In February this year, the detention centre guards were menaced by gangs and had bottles and other objects thrown at them. A security guard quoted by the ABC said, “We are not trained to be looking after violent offenders … we are supposed to be looking after detainees.”
Five months ago, an asylum seeker was attacked by a gang and hospitalised. “We are really scared of them because they have nothing to lose and get themselves to be deported,” an Afghan asylum seeker tellsThe Saturday Paper. “We escape our country to be safe. They mix us with criminals. These people don’t care about anything because they will be deported anyway.”
Most of the asylum seekers at Yongah detention centre are long-term detainees. Some are held for security reasons, which are not explained to them. Some have broken their bridging visa conditions, by working for instance. Many respond to their long detention by shutting down emotionally and withdrawing, shunning even the most meagre conversation.
An asylum seeker tells The Saturday Paper that many detainees suffer insomnia and are taking sleeping pills. Some have began calling random names or talking to themselves. “If a dog is being put this cage for this long, he or she would go crazy let alone a human being,” the asylum seeker says.
Nasim was an ethnic Hazara, a persecuted minority in Afghanistan. His father, Nadir Najafi, a shopkeeper, was killed by the Taliban in 2004. So was his uncle, Sadiq. Najafi’s home town, Hotqool, borders with the Pashtun and Taliban-dominated area Rasna. The kidnapping and murder of Hazaras – including those returned from Australia, as reported by The Saturday Paper last year – is common.
The security for Hazaras has worsened in recent years, particularly in the area where Nasim lived. Three years ago, he fled Afghanistan and arrived in Australia by boat. He had been locked up at Yongah Hill detention centre since 2012. The department of immigration would not say why Nasim was not offered a bridging visa or community detention, but said “certain aspects of this individual’s case rendered him ineligible” for these programs.
According to a department spokesperson, “The safety and security of the Australian community is of paramount importance to the department. Consequently, individuals with suspected histories of criminal behaviour, serious incidents in detention or who are of interest to security agencies will not be released from detention until such concerns are alleviated.”
The Saturday Paper contacted Nasim’s family, Hazara elders in his home town, his school, and the local district governor. All were shocked by these allegations. Nasim had no criminal record.
Says Jaghori’s district governor, Zafar Sharif: “I know his father and uncle were martyred by the Taliban. We and police do not have a criminal record against [Nasim]. He was a very active person in the area in cultural activities. I felt very sad to hear he died in the camp.”
Mamor Karim, the school principal of the Ustad Lycee Sharifi, says: “I know Nasim, he was my student. He was very intelligent and a well-behaved boy. I haven’t seen or heard any wrongdoings about him. It’s just total disbelief to me.’
Inmates at Yongah detention centre described Nasim as a law-abiding person. His American former roommate said: “He was a very friendly person, he was helping everyone … My mother is very sad too because he spoke to her on the phone and she sent some clothes from America.”
Victoria Martin-Iverson, of Refugee Rights Action Network WA, has demanded a full inquest. “It’s after all a death in custody,” she says. “We don’t know exactly what happened to him. Epilepsy normally doesn’t kill people. There must be another cause and it should be fully investigated.”
As well as his mother and fiancée, Nasim leaves behind two sisters and one brother, all children. He spoke to his mother a week before his death. All he said was, “I miss you.”
Refugees walk about the detention centre on the island of Nauru
Desperate and dispirited asylum seekers at the Australian-run detention centre on Nauru formed “suicide pacts”, identified themselves as numbers instead of by name, and were treated like animals by some guards, according to accounts by two social workers who worked at the centre.
“There was single adult female.. there was a group of teenage girls, there was a group of fathers, there was a group of mothers,” said Natasha Blucher, a case worker who personally signed 10 reports alerting centre management to the pacts.
Ms Blucher and another former social worker, Michelle Groeneveld, were among 10 Save the Children staff ordered to leave Nauru last October when former immigration minister Scott Morrison claimed they encouraged refugees to self-harm.
A Government review dismissed the claims, but none of the workers at the centre of the storm has spoken publicly until now.
Ms Blucher said she often clashed with guards about the practice of identifying inmates as numbers.
“Most of the time it wasn’t toxic but then sometimes … I would challenge them on things that they were doing or ask them to stop treating people with disrespect or ask them to stop referring to people by their boat IDs,” she said.
Ms Blucher said she believes the practice demoralised and degraded people: “So, something that people would constantly say is, ‘they think we’re animals, they’re treating us like animals’.”
Sinister stories have already emerged about the sexual exploitation of inmates by guards.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Ms Blucher described an atmosphere where local Nauruan staff saw the camp as a showcase for bride shopping.
“They would say things like, ‘hey baby, come and sit on my knee’,” she said.
“They would peer into their tents, they were trying to set it up for when they got outside and they could have a relationship, and the women found that very, very threatening.”
Ms Groeneveld argues the Australian Government was deliberately cruel and did not meet needs on purpose.
“It’s very obvious in that environment that the Government do not want to give any comfort or make anything comfortable at all,” she said.
Social workers were constantly reporting abuse
By late last September, as some asylum seekers on Nauru were planning to kill themselves, the Government decided to sack some Save the Children case workers.
In leaked documents, one official described the public sacking of staff as a “circuit breaker”.
I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence – a boiling pot of despair.
Michelle Groeneveld, Save the Children staff
Ms Blucher has come to see the dismissal as an act of intimidation.
“I was just constantly challenging when I felt that people were not being respected or that where somebody’s safety was at risk,” she said.
Ms Groeneveld had a similar view.
“I believe we were scapegoated to take the attention away from what was happening in the camp, which is the sexual exploitation of children, abuse, people’s human rights not being met, medical negligence — a boiling pot of despair,” she said.
“We were constantly reporting inappropriate behaviour of guards towards children.”
The Senate inquiry into allegations over Nauru received a submission from Wilson Security, denying wrongdoing.
Ms Blucher believed Australia’s detention camp on Nauru had become the bitter harvest of successive governments — intentionally cruel to force asylum seekers to give up their claims.
“Even if it works to stop the boats, it’s not worth it,” she said.
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.
“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.”
The 62-page report, “‘We are the Walking Dead’: Killings of Shia Hazaras in Balochistan, Pakistan,” documents Sunni militant group attacks on the mostly Shia Hazara community in Balochistan. Since 2008, several hundreds of Hazara have been killed in steadily worsening targeted violence, including two bombings in the provincial capital, Quetta, in January and February 2013 that killed at least 180 people
the Hazaras of Dandenong
The Hazara community around Dandenong has grown steadily over the past fifteen-or-so years to the point where there are now an estimated 12,000 living in the area which now extends to Narre Warren, Hampton Park and Cranbourne.
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