Australia and Indonesia collaborate to wreck asylum seekers' lives in Indonesia
Since 2001, the Australian government has had a covert policy of 'pushing back' asylum seeker boats to their departure points in Indonesia.
It's a policy that directly undermines refugee rights and protection.
This nasty policy approach, first implemented under John Howard PM (1996-2007) by means of Amendments to the Migration Act (26 Sept 2001) combines with the establishment of a largely secret people smuggling taskforce, tasked with the mandate to 'deter, deny and disrupt' asylum seeker boat voyages to Australia. At the same time, large, and largely hidden funds go to the International Organisation for Migration, who provide food and shelter in holding camps, warehouses and cheap motels, and who assist with UNHCR registration through its Jakarta office.
Now, ten years later, things are not much better as far as Australia's covert warehousing policy is concerned, while things deteriorate in countries such as Afghanistan, so the number of asylum seekers in Indonesia is building up in disturbing ways.
This page brings together some media items relating to the deteriorating situation in Indonesia for asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. It starts with a link to a sound file, a discussion between ABC Radio National reporter Linda Mottram and Melbourne lawyer David Manne.
26 August 2006: The 'Flotsam' Downflow from Indonesia - Without the Migration Bill, will Indonesia dump their refugees on our shores? A reflection on the Burmese refugees and the "coincidence" of the timing of their arrival on Asmore Reef. Includes former diplomat Tony Kevin's speech on Australia-Indonesian relations at an Uniya seminar.
20 April 2004: Afghani Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Republic of Indonesia - Hassan Ghulam, who went to Indonesian holding camps such as the one on Lombok, states that UNHCR needs to consider revising its approach and methods, to bring them into line with contemporary expectations and technology.
4 April 2004: Australia and "the queue", a Project SafeCom study - Because most boats attempting to reach Australia's migration zone sail from Indonesian ports, many of them embarking from an Indonesian refugee camp, Australia's failure to fully address the refugee load jointly with Indonesia and its Jakarta UNHCR office, is partly responsible for creating "the boat people problem".
12 January 2004: Hazara Es, and stuck on Lombok - Hunger strikers and refugees stuck on Lombok are all refugees "pushed back" from Ashmore Reef by the Royal Australian NAVY in October 2001, the lead-up to the last Federal Election.
2 October 2003: People-Smuggling: National Myths and Realities - "New sources of people flows to Australia are bound to emerge, sometimes with little or no warning. Significantly, the scale of potential flows from non-traditional sources like India, Indonesia and Africa are far in excess of anything Australia has ever experienced," says ONA whistleblower Andrew Wilkie.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
ABC Radio National
Updated September 21, 2009 11:37:30
Australia is facing growing questions about the practice of what some call the "warehousing" of asylum seekers in second countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.
The issue has been fuelled after confirmation that Indonesia has been sending Afghans, including persecuted Hazaras, back to their country. Australia says it is fighting people-smugglers through its policies but some say Australia is encouraging a dangerous game of human ping-pong.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra Correspondent
Speakers: David Manne, Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre in Melbourne
Listen to the audio: Windows Media
ABC News Online
Posted Wed Sep 23, 2009 7:27pm AEST
An Australian-trained task force has begun work in Indonesia to try and catch those responsible for people smuggling.
The Federal Government has funded the $15 million initiative, which has seen 145 Indonesian officers trained and equipped by Australian Federal Police.
The new task force has been scattered throughout Indonesia at 12 key people smuggling posts.
The Home Affairs Minister, Brendan O'Conner, says their aim is to stop the boats from leaving Indonesia.
"It is a despicable trade, it exploits the desperation of people around the world," he said.
"We condemn it and continue to be vigilante to ensure that we personally disrupt the syndicate, secondly prosecute the people smugglers, and we continue to successfully intercept the boats and have an orderly process on Christmas Island."
Meanwhile, the Federal Opposition has used another boat arrival of asylum seekers to again push for a review of border protection.
A boat carrying 98 asylum seekers has been intercepted in Australian waters north-west of Christmas Island.
The Government says conflict overseas has led to a surge in boat arrivals.
But the Acting Opposition Leader Julie Bishop says a weaker policy is to blame.
"The Government is in denial," she said.
"I'm informed that the Christmas Island facilities are at breaking point.
"It is time for the Government to admit that it got it wrong on border protection and hold a review into the changes it made to the border protection laws last August."
IRIN - humanitarian news and analysis
a project of the UN Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 21 September 2009
Puncak, 21 September 2009 (IRIN) - Indonesia has been struggling to cope with a surge of Afghan asylum-seekers since the beginning of 2009, officials say.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said that between 1 January and 31 August it had registered 1,371 Afghan asylum-seekers, and that in the first six months of 2009 there had been a 925 percent increase in the number of asylum-seekers on the figure for the whole of 2008.
It has also officially recognized 142 as refugees.
However, Indonesian immigration officials say their actual numbers probably run into the thousands, as many slip into the country unrecorded.
"We started noticing an increase in August 2008. It's not consistent every month, but in general it's going up most months in increasing numbers," Robert Ashe, UNHCR's regional representative in Jakarta, told IRIN.
Afghans accounted for over 60 percent of the 2,414 asylum-seekers and refugees currently registered by the UNHCR in Indonesia.
Most claim to come from Afghanistan's central province of Ghazni, and 80 percent are from the ethnic Hazara group (mainly Shia and making up about 9 percent of the population).
Most of the Afghans seen by the UNHCR have made it to Indonesia using agents, including people smugglers and traffickers, and their main destination is Australia.
Most have also transited through Pakistan or Iran, and are fleeing from generalized violence, rather than individual persecution.
"The main reason [for the increase] is the push factor - the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating," said the UNHCR's Ashe.
"It's possible we are getting Afghan refugees from Pakistan as well. As the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated... they feel they have to move to safer places," he said.
Afghan migrants travelling by boat to Indonesia take giant risks: the seas around Indonesia are among the most treacherous in the world, and barely seaworthy boats filled beyond capacity often drift or sink.
In May, nine Afghan refugees drowned when their vessel capsized near the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Ali Reza Noori, a UNHCR-recognized refugee, was among thousands of unregistered Afghans who have tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Australia several times by boat. The last "horrible" attempt almost cost him his life, he said.
"The boat pump broke after a few days. There were 140 people on board. Everybody panicked and prayed. We had to drink water from the sea," he told IRIN at a house provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Puncak, near Jakarta.
The leaking craft was spotted by the Indonesian authorities after being adrift for 14 days, shortly after supplies had run out.
Struggling to cope
The cash-strapped Indonesian government has been taken by surprise by the sudden increase in Afghans entering the country in search of a better life.
"For Indonesia, the problem is they have limited capacity in their detention centres, and this large influx - as they start to pick people up - has stretched their capacity," said Ashe.
Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, nor does it have a refugee status determination system, so asylum-seekers do not receive official status.
The country also lacks a law against people-smuggling, which means offenders are prosecuted under other legislation, such as immigration laws, and only locked up for limited periods of time, said Ashe.
"It's not enough to stop people smugglers from operating," he said.
Detention centres overflowing
Another refugee, Ali Ahadi, left behind his wife and four children and paid US$4,000 to people smugglers - a huge amount, given Afghanistan's per capita income of US$300 - for the journey to Australia via the Indonesian island of Flores, near Bali.
The boat that was supposed to pick him up never came, and Ahadi ended up in a detention centre called Kalideres, near Jakarta.
"It looks like a jail. They put six people in a room that is supposed to fit two, and then they lock the door," he told IRIN from the city of Medan, where he is living in an IOM house as a recognized refugee.
Maroloan Barimbing, a spokesman for the Indonesian immigration service, admitted the detention centres were crowded.
"Indonesia has 13 detention centres, but they are not designed to have that many refugees. The largest can accommodate around 50 people, but most are only for 30 people," he said.
New centres have been built to shelter an additional 600 refugees of all nationalities, but that is not nearly enough.
"We cannot handle it ourselves. We have to get the international community to understand that this should not be Indonesia's problem (alone)," said Barimbing.
New York Times
By Peter Gelling
Published: April 18, 2009
Idi Rayeuk, Indonesia - The only solace for the almost 200 men living in a squalid refugee camp here is the freedom they now have to pray.
"In Myanmar, if we pray, we are killed," said Alam Shah, 38, a member of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who fled the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar last year. "I'm scared they will send us back there. It is a very, very dangerous country."
The Rohingya here were found floating at sea on Feb. 2, after having spent three weeks aboard a wooden boat with no motor, no food and no water. When they were found by an Indonesian fisherman off the coast of Aceh, Indonesia's northernmost province, many were close to death.
A few months before, another boat with about 200 Rohingya refugees landed in Sabang, on the northern tip of Aceh, where they are now being held at a naval station. Several more boats were found by the Indian coast guard carrying almost 400 Rohingya.
Research by nongovernmental organizations suggests that all the refugees had passed through detention camps on islands just off the coast of Thailand. According to interviews with the refugees, the Thai military towed and abandoned at least six boats at sea between November and January, when the international news media picked up the story and the so-called push-backs were halted.
The expulsions reversed a policy in which Thailand had allowed thousands of Rohingya to land in recent years, mostly on their way to Malaysia. The Thai military had denied accusations of pushing the refugees out to sea, but Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand said in February that some boats had been towed out to sea and that he intended to investigate.
About 1,200 men are known to have been pushed out to sea, more than 300 of whom drowned, according to the Arakan Project, a nongovernmental human rights group. There are fears, however, that many more Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar, formerly Burma, are still missing.
"It is difficult to say what the exact numbers are," said Chris Lewa, an expert on Rohingya issues who runs the Arakan Project. "But based on the interviews we have done with refugees that have ended up in India and Indonesia, we think there were many more push-backs than have been confirmed."
"What does seem clear," Ms Lewa said, "what is consistent among all the interviews we have done with the refugees, is that they were detained on islands off the coast of Thailand before being towed out to sea and set adrift by the Thai military."
Last week, after months of delays, the United Nations began the process of "status determination" for the 391 men being held in Idi Rayeuk and Sabang. The process, a series of interviews with refugees, will determine if they are in need of protection and can stay in Indonesia, or if they are economic migrants who should be returned to Myanmar.
At the same time, on the resort island of Bali, leaders from around Southeast Asia, including from Myanmar, are beginning discussions about regional migrants, including the Rohingya.
Indonesia, which regional analysts have praised for its leadership in matters like human rights, disaster reconstruction and other issues involving Myanmar, fears a flood of thousands of Rohingya to its shores if the men in Aceh are allowed to stay.
"Indonesia is trying to play a leadership role in this situation," said Lilianne Fan, a humanitarian worker who has worked in Aceh and Myanmar and is now advising the Acehnese governor.
"Compared to other regional governments, the Indonesians have responded very well, especially since they have engaged international organizations," she said.
The United Nations estimates that about 723,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, where the military government considers them foreigners and denies them citizenship, passports or the right to own land. There are also hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in Bangladesh.
The Rohingya in Myanmar live mostly in the northern state of Rahkine and in the past fled through Bangladesh and into the Middle East. But new travel restrictions imposed by Bangladesh's government have forced the Rohingya to find alternative destinations like Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The process of status determination and the negotiations that will need to take place between Myanmar and Indonesia could take many months. Meanwhile, the few aid organizations in Idi Rayeuk are concerned that the camp is not equipped to house refugees for long.
The men were greeted generously by the local Acehnese, many of whom live in abject poverty themselves but can relate to the Rohingya's situation. Many Acehnese here have family members who were forced to flee a separatist conflict that raged in Aceh for 30 years until a peace agreement was reached in 2005. Idi Rayeuk, in fact, was once a central launching point for Acehnese trying to flee the country.
"The support has been unreal and an inspiration for the rest of the world," said Sara Henderson, president of the Building Bridges to the Future Foundation. "They are still giving free fish to the camp when they have barely enough to eat themselves."
But the generosity of the Acehnese and the local government is nowhere near enough, Ms. Henderson said. The men still live in tents on wet, muddy ground. Sanitation, food and water remain basic, and security is almost nonexistent. Seven men fled the camp last Monday morning, apparently afraid they were about to be deported, but they were all later caught.
Several of the refugees are also suffering from serious health problems, like tuberculosis, but the camp lacks qualified doctors and money for health care.
The Building Bridges to the Future Foundation, which was founded in response to the December 2004 tsunami in Aceh, has been pressing for donations to help coordinate the camp and provide necessary logistical support. The local government has offered to provide a larger plot of land if money can be raised for necessities like temporary barracks, sanitation and food.
"The local community and the government do not have the funds to support a refugee camp of 198 men," Ms. Henderson said. "They barely, and rarely, have the funds to take care of themselves."
Sydney Morning Herald
Tom Allard and Kerry-Anne Walsh
April 19, 2009
The Rudd Government is expected to announce a big funding increase for Indonesian police and immigration officials as they grapple with a surge in asylum seekers from the Middle East.
New surveillance equipment and training programs for Indonesian authorities combating people smuggling are at the centre of the package, which The Sun-Herald understands has the support of cabinet's National Security Committee.
The multimillion-dollar package is also expected to assist Indonesia to improve its stretched immigration detention facilities.
Indonesia has had an influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East since September last year. Four boats have made it to Australian waters in the past few weeks carrying about 200 people. Two other groups, who said they were heading for Australia, have been prevented from leaving Indonesia in the past week.
On Friday Indonesian authorities apprehended 70 potential Afghan asylum seekers in West Java. Last night the Government refused on "operational grounds" to comment on reports another boat carrying up to 100 was on its way to Australia.
The 44 survivors of Thursday's fatal blast, believed to be mostly Afghan men, are being treated for injuries, some severe, in hospitals in Brisbane, Perth and Darwin; six were flown from Darwin to Brisbane yesterday for specialist treatment. Three of the men in Darwin are now in custody.
Police have begun interviewing almost 100 witnesses to the blast, which killed three. Two people are still missing. There has been speculation the passengers doused the ship with petrol in a sabotage attempt.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said on Friday the country's borders were porous and improved security was vital.
Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Jakarta show more than 150 people have registered as asylum seekers in the past month. Many who pay human trafficking syndicates do not register with the UN.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans seized on yesterday's jailing of a people smuggler to demonstrate the Government was tough on border control. He said the six-year jail term given to Man Pombili, 31, by a West Australian District Court reinforced the message that people smugglers faced severe punishment.
"People smuggling is a dangerous crime that exploits vulnerable people during times of desperation," Senator Evans said. "This has been reinforced by the tragic events of this week."
Pombili pleaded guilty to smuggling 10 people into Australia after the boat he skippered was located south of Ashmore Reef by the Royal Australian Navy on November 19 last year.
Senator Evans denied claims he had received a report by the Australian Federal Police warning that Labor's border protection policies would increase the number of asylum seekers.
ABC NEWS ONLINE
Posted Tue May 26, 2009 12:17pm AEST
Updated Tue May 26, 2009 12:18pm AEST
Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty says authorities in Indonesia have stopped nearly 900 suspected asylum seekers from travelling to Australia since September last year.
Thirteen boatloads of asylum seekers have arrived in Australia in the past five months.
The Navy intercepted the latest boatload near Ashmore Island off the north-west coast of Australia on Sunday.
"Since September 2008, in Indonesia, there have been 40 identified disruptions comprising of 887 foreign nationals suspected of being in transit or have entered Indonesia for the purpose of travelling to Australia illegally," Commissioner Keelty said.
Sydney Morning Herald
June 24, 2009
Asylum seekers allegedly planning to head to Australia have been arrested in Indonesia.
Twenty-one Afghan migrants were arrested at a hotel on the Indonesian island of Lombok after police were tipped off about the group travelling there from Jakarta, the ABC has reported.
None had legal documents other than registration letters from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it said.
The group planned to travel to the island of Rote before trying to sail to Australia's Ashmore Reef, Lombok police say.
Two Lombok residents accused of helping the group had also been arrested, the ABC said.
News of the arrests comes a day after Australian authorities intercepted a boat carrying 49 suspected asylum seekers and four crew off Australia's north coast.
Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor on Tuesday said that boat - the 14th carrying suspected asylum seekers to be caught on its way to Australia this year - was intercepted six kilometres southeast of Ashmore Reef.
Mr O'Connor said the passengers would be transferred to Christmas Island.
"They will undergo health, security, identity and other checks to establish their identity and reasons for travel," the home affairs minister said in a statement.
© 2009 AAP
Tom Allard, Jakarta
September 12, 2009
Hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers caught in Indonesia as they sought to reach Australia have been sent back to their war-ravaged homeland in the past few months after being offered a financial inducement and allegedly told they have next to no chance of being resettled in another country.
Indonesia's director for immigration law enforcement, Muchdor, said 376 asylum seekers - almost all of them Afghans - had been repatriated recently, flown to Dubai and then Kabul under a program managed by the Jakarta office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
The surge in repatriations has prompted criticism from refugee advocates that the policy is endangering lives, and represents a recasting of the Howard government's abandoned Pacific Solution with a similarly inhumane "South-East Asian solution".
It comes as Indonesian authorities yesterday said they had detained 56 Afghans off the eastern island of Lombok who were attempting to travel by wooden boat to Australia. Three Indonesian boat crew were also arrested.
Australia provides funding for the IOM in Indonesia, including its repatriation programs. It also funds the detention centres that hold asylum seekers in Indonesia.
Muchdor, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said all of the asylum seekers had volunteered to go home. But while many are interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure they are genuinely willing to return, The Age has learned that as many as half of them do not go through these checks.
A huge influx of asylum seekers this year has overwhelmed the UNHCR in Jakarta. Many have to wait more than six months before they register with the UNHCR. It can then take years for a claim for protection under the Refugee Convention to be ruled on.
Asylum seekers say they are placed under extreme pressure and feel they have no choice but to take up the offer to go back to Afghanistan, currently in the grip of its worst violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
"The IOM officials come around and they tell us 'don't bother, nothing is going to happen for you'," said one asylum seeker, who asked not to be named.
He said that individuals were being offered "about $2000" in cash payments by the IOM to return. It is understood that families get more.
Australia allocated $8 million for the IOM in this year's budget. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Evans rejected the notion that the sharp increase in repatriations had been driven from Canberra.
The IOM was an "independent organisation" that "counsels people about their options and assists them to return to their homes with dignity", he said.
Australia has also funded the refurbishment of Indonesian detention centres, including one in west Jakarta where conditions were harsh - another factor in encouraging Afghans to return home, according to one asylum seeker.
"It's very tough here," said Hamid Amiri. "We are locked in a cell all day. I have requested many times to go outside, to walk around the grounds but we are not allowed to do that."
David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said all the Afghans who had made it to Australian shores in the past year had been found to be genuine refugees.
"When someone flees Afghanistan, they have done so to avoid systematic brutality. It's an extremely dangerous place, and that's one of the reasons why we have our troops there," he said. "What is going on here is an extremely dangerous game of human ping-pong."
He said Australia had to bear responsibility for what was going on in Indonesia because "Australia bankrolls the system and the refugee camps".
"We are subcontracting border protection to countries like Indonesia. The Pacific Solution has been replaced by the South-East Asia solution."
Despite repeated requests for an interview, and emailed questions, the IOM declined to comment on the surge in repatriations, and its practice of paying people.
However, one immigration official in Indonesia noted that it was not inaccurate to tell asylum seekers they had a slim chance of being resettled.
"In the end, the problem lies in the fact that rich countries don't take that many refugees." There are currently 16 million registered asylum seekers. Last year only 67,000 were resettled.
An Indonesian navy official said last night that some of the men who were detained near Lombok had been carrying identity cards issued by the Jakarta office of the UNHCR.
Tom Allard, Jakarta
September 12, 2009
Hamid Amiri cries frequently. The shoemaker from Qarabagh in Afghanistan, one of the war-torn country's most violent provinces, has spent almost his entire adult life on the run and it has taken its toll.
From Pakistan, to Indonesia, to Christmas Island and Nauru, back to Afghanistan, then to Iran and Pakistan again, over a decade Amiri, 29, has been imprisoned, consigned to refugee camps, deported and spent long stretches in immigration detention.
Now, the shoemaker from Afghanistan's long-persecuted Hazara minority is back in Indonesia after being caught in April aboard a vessel making its way from Jakarta to Australia.
It was his second attempt to reach a country he longingly calls a "very, very nice place".
The first, in 2001, ended with the vessel foundering on Ashmore Reef. As the boat sank, two women died. Amiri clambered aboard the reef but the promised land of Australia proved elusive.
After a stint on Christmas Island, he was packed off to the desolate and remote Pacific island of Nauru, caught up in the Howard government's Pacific Solution.
"I was there for two years. The situation was very, very desperate," he recalls. "They said you can't stay in Australia and no other country will take you. They were always saying, 'What are you doing here?' "
With no way out, Amiri agreed to go back to Afghanistan. He lasted barely a month.
"I managed to escape the Taliban, [but] when I arrived in Kabul I ran into problems with the Tajiks," he said. "They locked me up. They were always hitting us with sticks. I saw people killed with my own eyes. Shot dead."
He says he escaped while the guards were sleeping, fleeing to Pakistan and then Iran. He plied his trade as a shoemaker in Tehran but after a year he was caught by immigration authorities and deported to Afghanistan. His brother Wahid, he soon discovered, had been captured and would later be killed.
He fell in love, and had two children with a local girl but later found she had been promised to another man.
"He is a powerful man, his family is very important and he said he would kill me," said Amiri.
The family fled to Pakistan. Their life savings were pulled together and, for $US5000, a smuggler named Irfan promised him passage to Australia.
He got as far as the waters off Jakarta, and the intensely depressing frustrations of Nauru have returned.
"I haven't even had an interview [to begin the assessment for his refugee claims] and I have been here five months."
While other Afghans are giving up and going back to Kabul, Amiri says he is determined to stay, even as he often spends 24 hours a day locked in a cell.
"Afghanistan is too dangerous for me. I know I will die there," he said.
ABC NEWS ONLINE
Posted Sat Sep 12, 2009 6:08am AEST
Indonesia has detained 56 Afghan migrants off the eastern island of Lombok who were attempting to travel by wooden boat to Australia.
A navy official says the migrants' boat was intercepted in the waters near Papakan Island, east of Lombok, on Thursday night.
He says the Afghans, all men, started their journey from Jakarta.
The official says some of the detained men were carrying identity cards issued by the Jakarta office of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
He says three Indonesian boat crew have also been arrested and are being questioned.
by Jessie Taylor
September 16, 2009 - 12:23PM
The past week has seen a significant change in the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia. The grotesque practice of charging refugees for the daily cost of their imprisonment in our detention centres has now ended (despite the resistance of the Opposition). The degrading indignity of a visa which denies refugees the right to work or to receive Medicare or Centrelink benefits has ended. For these reforms the Government must be warmly congratulated.
But despite these welcome developments, the Government has an ugly secret: it is involved in warehousing asylum seekers in Indonesia in order to prevent them from seeking protection here. This is well documented, but not widely known.
Warehousing is not a new feature of Australia's refugee policy. The Pacific Solution pioneered the idea. Nauru was a textbook example: an offshore place where asylum seekers could be kept at a distance, outside Australia so as not to trigger any legal rights, at a price that far outweighs the normal cost of processing and resettling refugees onshore.
The Rudd government has enjoyed widespread praise for closing the Nauru camp quickly. However, through the continued use of Indonesia for warehousing people, Rudd and Evans are emulating the darkest, meanest and most cynical practices of Howard and Ruddock.
There is one difference: under Howard, Nauru was closed to the outside world. Australia controlled who could go there and who could not. Indonesia is not so servile, and it is possible to visit the detention centres there to see what is being done in our name, with our taxes.
Jessie Taylor is a lawyer and refugee activist who recently travelled to Indonesia. She met more than 250 people, in 11 places of detention across the country. There were infants and young children in maximum security jails, with faeces and fungus in their drinking water. There were rodents, spiders and cockroaches in their living areas. Skin diseases, vomiting, diarrhoea, dramatic weight loss and unidentified tumour-like growths are fairly common. Despair is universal.
While in Indonesia, Jessie Taylor met a flustered, overworked UN Refugee Agency representative in a Jakarta prison. The UNHCR representative informed her that she had conducted 20 interviews the previous day. Based on an eight-hour day, this allows 24 minutes per interview. The interview is the only opportunity asylum seekers have to present their full claims to the UNHCR. Twenty-four minutes is a hopelessly short time for such an interview, but half of that time is taken up by the process of interpreting, and half of the remaining time is taken up by the UNHCR representative explaining the process and asking questions. That leaves the applicant just six minutes to explain the circumstances which forced them to flee. Any qualified migration agent or solicitor will attest to the fact that this process, done properly, normally takes many hours, over a number of interviews, allowing the applicant to go slowly and carefully when describing the trauma that has caused them to leave their homelands in search of safety.
Asylum seekers are being processed in this perfunctory way and many are being rejected and sent back to extreme danger based on information gleaned from a six minute statement. The UNHCR, International Organisation for Migration and Australia are involved in a serious breach of human rights made all the worse because it has the superficial appearance of due process. It is a charade. Australia really can do better than this.
The asylum seekers are held, mostly, by the IOM. We pay it to look after them. They can wait several years before even the brief interview they receive, and may wait another year before getting a decision on their status.
That Australia is responsible for these conditions is a fact that should keep the Immigration Minister awake at night.
Most of the asylum seekers are Iraqis, and Afghan Hazaras. Hazaras are the ethnic group considered by the Taliban to be overdue for genocide. A modest number of Hazaras have managed to get to Australia already: more than 95% of them have been found to be genuine refugees. They have been quickly resettled in Australia and are already contributing to Australian society. So here we are, paying the IOM about $8 million dollars of Australian taxpayers' money to hold people in shocking conditions, potentially for many years.
For more than a decade, the Taliban has terrorised the Afghan people. Many Australians have fought and died in battle against the Taliban. Australia recognises the terrible deeds this group has committed against their countrymen. Why is it that so many Australians can readily recognise the evils of the Taliban or other oppressive forces, but they cannot extend that understanding to the the victims of those groups? Most Australians denounce the Taliban's shocking human rights abuses, but few are willing to welcome the victims of those abuses, and provide them with safety and protection.
It is to our eternal shame that the best bet for the men, women and children held at our expense in Indonesia is to get on a leaky boat and make for Christmas Island. Instead we should be contributing to swift and safe processing and resettlement directly from Indonesia; not a game of maritime Russian roulette.
Many of the people held at our expense in Indonesia have plausible ties to Australia: some were caught up in the Pacific Solution but were forced back to Afghanistan or Iraq; some have family here. Australia should assess their claims for protection and resettle them here without delay: not only is it the decent thing to do, it will be cheaper. And it will go some way to restoring our tarnished reputation.
September 16, 2009
INDONESIAN authorities have stopped more than 1000 would-be asylum-seekers from setting off for Australia, a sign of better co-operation in tackling unlawful migration, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said yesterday.
The main focus of the Rudd government's strategy to tackle people-smuggling would be disruption and intervention of overseas-based criminal syndicates behind the multi-million-dollar rackets, Mr O'Connor told The Australian.
The minister's comments come as the number of asylum-seekers apprehended by Border Protection Command so far this year reach 1181 as well as 46 foreign crew.
The most recent boat, 83 passengers and four crew, was apprehended 82 nautical miles south of Ashmore Island on Sunday.
Most asylum-seekers chose to embark in Indonesia heading for Ashmore Island, a speck of Australian territory lying about 900km west of Darwin, but only a day's travel by fishing boat from the eastern Indonesian island of Roti.
In consultation with our neighbours, Canberra was enacting a "more interventionist" policy designed to disrupt people-smuggling operations, the minister said. "Already there's been an estimated 1000 people who did not get on to boats because of efforts made by the law enforcement agencies of Indonesia in co-operation with the AFP (Australian Federal Police).
"There's also been a higher incidence of prosecution of people-smugglers, primarily in the West Australian courts, where people are being imprisoned on average for up to six years."
He said opposition claims the recent spike in asylum-seekers was caused by a softening of government border protection policy were not true.
Tough anti-asylum seeker measures put in place by the Howard government had never stopped boatpeople arrivals.
When the regime was in full force in 2001, more than 5500 asylum-seekers were apprehended.
It raised an interesting question as to why the Howard government spent almost half a billion dollars building the Christmas Island detention centre a year later if it had been so successful at stopping the asylum-seeker problem, Mr O'Connor said.
"Were they building the white elephant detention centre on Christmas Island or did they know when they were in government what we know now? And that is, from time to time there will be spikes in arrivals and therefore this government and any other government will have to be vigilant in protecting our borders," he said.
Last night, opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone was adamant the spike in asylum-seeker numbers coincided with the removal last September of temporary protection visas imposed under John Howard.
However, the Coalition did support additional funding measures worth $18 million announced yesterday by Immigration Minister Chris Evans, designed to bolster the capabilities of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and its sister agency the International Organisation for Migration to combat people smuggling, Dr Stone said.
Indonesian people-smuggling kingpin Ali Cobra was yesterday jailed by the Kupang District Court for 2 1/2 years for arranging an ill-fated sea voyage to Australia that left at least nine asylum-seekers dead.
ABC - Radio Australia
Updated September 15, 2009 12:53:13
An Indonesian International Relations expert is questioning the Indonesian government's attempts to encourage Afghan asylum seekers to return home by offering them financial inducements.
He says greater effort must be made to ensure the asylum-seekers do not return to danger or persecution in their homeland.
Presenter: Christine Webster
Speaker: Hariyadi Wirawan, Head of the University of Indonesia's Department of International Relations
Wirawan: Yes I agree with that, I agree with you that we need a little bit of cooperation from Australia and New Zealand. But it's really also the Afghanistan government has to do more work in telling its people about what they're going to have go through when they decided to go elsewhere to have better living.
Wirawan: I think it is not very effective and some of them had spent a lot of money to go to countries like Australia and New Zealand. The reason why they go there is for a new life to begin and this is the encouragement to return to Afghanistan is not very, it's not a big welcome so happily by the refugees or by the Afghans. So I think the important thing is all these organised trips and the people from Afghanistan should be taken back home to Afghanistan through a more comprehensive way, that is to take them altogether to Afghanistan and not so much using money as a bait. This is the way of giving them really a chance to make a living back home in Afghanistan.
Webster: Surely the system is not really very good because people do come to Indonesia and they try to get to Australia because they're not happy in Afghanistan. Surely they wouldn't want to actually accept this offer would they?
Wirawan: Yes truly but what our government is very much concerned about that because some of them actually come to Indonesia for other purposes, that is to... our government is very clear about problems to our national security. They associate themselves with the radical groups in Indonesia and some of them actually have genuine reasons to go out there, but some of them are suspected of coming to Indonesia for different reasons. That's why if you give them the money and then they will tell people back home and it will in fact encourage people to come over to Indonesia at least they will try to get their way into Australia, because they will say if you get caught in Indonesia you will get the money and return, if not then you'll succeed in getting into the Australian shores. So actually it's not tough enough for them to teach them that going through these islands of Indonesia is not really an option.
Webster: What about the facilities for detention in Indonesia, are they adequate or is this why the Indonesian government's being forced to offer this financial inducement?
Wirawan: I think it's far from adequate I mean in terms of the western standards it's far from adequate. But we're not really prepared for them because we only think that they will come for a few moments, very short period of time. They're actually ready to stay in Indonesia for more than three months, even a year or two in order to succeed in getting into other countries.
Webster: I guess what really needs to be done I guess is try to prevent these people from even getting into Indonesia. Is this been an area that the Indonesian authorities have not focused enough resources on?
Exclusive: Paul Toohey, Puncak, Indonesia
October 10, 2009
Some are stuck, their spirits broken and their money gone. They are unable to move. Others are just waiting for the right deal and are ready to make the journey at a moment's notice.
At the mountain resort town of Puncak, two hours south of Jakarta, an estimated 400 Iraqis and Afghans, including Naghmeh and her son Milad, are scattered about in rundown inns and hotels. Most of them barely know each other but they are united by a common obsession - getting to Australia. The Indonesian authorities know they are here, as do the Australian government and agencies such as the International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commission for Refugees.
Most of them are registered as refugees with the UNHCR, and are waiting and praying for legal settlement in countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
But they say the UN moves too slowly for them. Those with the money will take their chances with the people-smugglers and book a passage on an Indonesian boat to Ashmore Reef or to Christmas Island - anywhere, as long as it is within Australian waters.
There is a surge happening, with 10boats, carrying 542 passengers and crew, arriving in Australian waters last month alone. Another boat, carrying 55 people, was intercepted yesterday near Ashmore Reef. Observers say it is either an organic spike, or it may be that people have chosen to move before the monsoon weather sets in.
But all the people The Weekend Australian spoke to were sure of the new ground rules in Australia - that is, that anyone who makes it to Australian waters will, if they pass the health and security checks, be on the mainland with a visa within 90 days.
Samer, a 31-year-old Iraqi now living in Puncak, knows all about Kevin Rudd and his new immigration rules. "I know Kevin Rudd is the new PM," he says. "I know about him. He has tried to get more immigrants. I have heard if someone arrives it is easy. They have camps, good service and if someone arrives they give us a limited visa and after three years you become an Australian citizen."
The Howard government's Pacific Solution is dead, and they know it.
That is why Australian police are working in Indonesia trying to encourage people to turn back before they arrive in Australian waters. In places such as Sri Lanka, the source of a recent wave of boatpeople after the civil war, Australia is using street theatre to spread its message about the dangers and illegality of the journey in an effort to deter people-smugglers and those who use them. In Colombo, the first failed asylum-seekers to be forcibly deported by the Rudd government, including Stanley Warnakulasuriya, face an uncertain future.
Australia funds the IOM to accommodate irregular arrivals in places such as Puncak, and to offer them the opportunity to volunteer for free repatriation. Few take it.
The IOM's best estimate is that there are several thousand Afghans and Iraqis in Indonesia, trying to find a route south.
While many in Puncak identify as Afghans, they may not have lived in that country for years. One such is Ali, 18, who was born in Afghanistan but was taken to Iran with his mother, brother and sister when he was three after his father was killed by enemies.
Ali says life in Iran was unbearable, and his family were never accepted into the Iranian community. "They do not treat us as friend but as enemy," he says.
His family gathered the money from their dressmaking business and have sent Ali to find a path to Australia, and with any luck to bring the rest of them later.
Ali says he has never possessed an official document that identifies him. If he gets to Australia, how will he prove he is who he says he is? He does not know. "I am not Taliban," he says.
Ali left Iran seven months ago with $US5000 ($5535). He flew to Malaysia, which provides immediate tourist visas on arrival to visitors from Muslim countries. He stayed for four months, hooking up with four other Afghan teenagers. With safety in numbers, they each paid $US800 to a local agent, who brought them on a boat to western Sumatra.
They island-hopped on ferries to Jakarta, where they immediately registered with the UNHCR. This gave them a modicum of security. Those who do not register can find themselves locked away in one of Indonesia's 12 detention centres.
They have no faith that the UNHCR will find a Western country to take them, so they stay in contact with a Jakarta-based Afghan people-smuggler. He is asking $US6000 to deliver them to Australian waters.
It is too much money for Ali, who is waiting for the price to drop. He says he would prefer to enter Australia legally, but he is running out of time and money.
"If I get a suitable price, I will take a boat," he says. "I have to go. I have to take my chances."
Migration experts in Indonesia dismiss the notion that there is a "snake-head" - that is, a major international criminal syndicate moving Afghans and Iranians from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran to Australia.
"If there was a snake-head, we could simply cut off the head," said one source. "But it's not like that. It's the lack of any highly organised structure that is in fact its strength. It's more like a series of travel agencies."
The Australian Federal Police are working on a training program with Indonesian police to tackle the irregular migrants, as they are called in Indonesia, but it's a battle. They have identified 12 key departure points across Indonesia, but these are only temporary. Once the heat is on, the smugglers just shift location.
The Indonesian navy last month intercepted a boatload of 70 Afghans headed for Australia. They were put in a low-security detention centre on the island of Lombok. On the evening of September 23, during Ramadan, their guards were elsewhere or were looking the other way (during Ramadan, you are required to be kind to all people).
They walked out the door and have now broken up into smaller, less conspicuous groups and have scattered across the islands. They will presumably try again.
During 2000 and 2001, the time of the Tampa crisis, women and children were making the journey. Now it is almost exclusively men, who hope to settle and bring their families afterwards. We did meet one rare Afghan woman, Naghmeh, 28, who was living in a decrepit motel in Puncak with her 10-year-old son Milad. She was originally from the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan but left for Iran as a child., She still considers herself an Afghan.
Naghmeh, who has Asiatic features and could pass as an Indonesian, has been a refugee nearly all her life. She says her husband had hardline religious views. "I didn't want to be with him," she says. "I want to be secular."
Naghmeh says she flew from Iran to Dohar and then to Singapore. She arrived in Jakarta in January. She had paid $US6000 to an agent in Iran, which was for her airfares and boat travel to Australia. "The agent took the money and ran," she said.
Naghmeh and Milad are trapped in Puncak. Many are in a similar fix, running down their money and marking time. For registered refugees, the UNHCR will eventually come through with subsistence cash - 1.77 million rupiah a month ($210). But the Afghans say it takes seven to eight months to start receiving it.
Thair, 23, is an Iraqi who fled to Syria in 2007. He is yet another male emissary, sent by his family to make his way to Australia. He says he is surviving on the UNHCR money, hoping he will be legally resettled in Australia.
"You know why people take the boats?" he says. "They are waiting too long here in Indonesia. We are all registered with the UNHCR, but we wait, wait, wait. Every day I die here. I can't eat, I can't sleep. Now I want to go back home, but I cannot go back home.
"I do not want to catch a boat. The ocean is not easy. I want to build my life. I want to change my life, to get married, to go to Australia."
Muhammad, 16, from Kandahar in Afghanistan, is another recent arrival. His money is running low but he is hoping to buy a passage with $US2000. He has been told the weather is turning bad and that he may have to wait three months. Some of the Afghan refugees have heard about the SIEV36 explosion at Ashmore Reef on April 16, in which five of their countrymen died. They have also heard that anyone who makes it to Australian waters is almost guaranteed fast processing. "Everybody knows about the 90 days," says Muhammad.
They know little about Australian politics, but they do know something has changed. And that it is not hard to become an Australian if you can only make the crossing.
A group of Afghan teenage youths, who are yet to receive the UNHCR allowance, eat two meals a day - rice with a salad of cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. They insist we share their food. They say they want Australians to know their stories. They have many stories, but they're all the same. They are the last hope of their families back home. Ali says he wants to continue in the dressmaking trade. Matin wants to be a mechanic. Muhammad would like to study medicine, and Amir wants to be a carpenter.
These teenagers describe themselves as Muslim, but just outside their rented home, for which they pay about $100 a month, there is a small musholla, or prayer room, which is used by local Indonesians. They do not use it. They indicate, in circumspect fashion, that the last thing they're interested in is religion. It has been the cause of all their problems.
Samer, 31, says he was a photo-journalist in Baghdad and has a picture of himself in a media flak jacket with a press badge and a camera around his neck. He says he worked for One World magazine and fled after he was threatened by terrorists. He went to Syria but says local intelligence agents put the heavies on him to become a spy. "They're like Gestapo," he says, "and I could not tell them I support America." He caught a plane to Doha, and then on to Malaysia, where he applied through the UNHCR to become a refugee.
"I got no help from them," he says. "They are useless."
He says he was dumped in a jungle in Sumatra and caught ferries and buses across to Jakarta.
"So many Afghans here in Puncak have been cheated. The people who organise to get you on the boat are wealthy Afghans or Iraqis who live here. I met one; I didn't trust him. He says to give him $4000 and after a few days we'll move to a boat. There were no guarantees."
Thair says he has heard from friends that Australia is clean and peaceful. But for now, he doesn't know what he's going to do. He was so terrified catching the boat from Malaysia to Indonesia that he refuses ever to go on one again.
Thair is afraid of going back to Iraq, but he believes taking a voluntary repatriation is his only option. "I was so stupid coming here," he says.