Meet Australia’s Refugees

While in the U.S., we are debating immigration reform and tensions are swelling, Australia is debating immigration issues as well. I don’t have policy recommendations, but want to share stories of some of the people who are trying to receive asylum in Australia. We can’t represent one as a whole, or the whole as an individual, but we can find insights through individual stories. The group of refugees that I want to focus on are the Hazaras. In Australia they are sometimes referred to as “boat people” because of the extreme measures they take of braving the seas to find asylum in the country.

Hazaras are Shia muslims, mostly concentrated in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Afghanistan’s third largest ethnic group, who are leaving their homes to escape religious and ethnic persecution. They were once over 60% of the population, but massacres in the 19th century due to political loss of power has greatly reduced their population. Although power has shifted in Afghanistan and Hazara members are now in the government, there is still widespread violence. With Taliban influence and decades of economic discrimination in Afghanistan, they are in a precarious situation. This prompts their dangerous journeys through Southeast Asia to find a new place to live and flourish. Unfortunately, many arrive in Indonesia weary and battered from their travels with dimming hope.

In Puncak, Indonesia, a community of at least 4,000 Hazaras are trying to build a life while hoping for the chance to be granted asylum in Australia or New Zealand. A man named Noorullah left Afghanistan after Taliban soldiers targeted him for working with U.S. contractors. He paid smugglers $9,000 for his transit out of Afghanistan into Indonesia; the range is usually $8,000 to $12,000 a person. Imagine the struggle to pull together this money when many in Afghanistan are poor. All of the refugees in Puncak are stuck in a state of limbo. In Indonesia there is no process in place to assist asylum seekers in finding a new home, or to provide them with legal rights such as shelter, food, and home. The country is not a signatory of the United Nations Refugee Convention which outlines legal rights and processes to support refugees. Australia is one such nation, who has recently found themselves the subject of condemnation because of their detention and treatment of refugees (read more here). In short, refugees are stuck in Indonesia with three options: return to their homes, wait for asylum, or take to the seas, neither of which are immediately assuring. 

About 43% of illegal asylum seekers who travel to Australia by boat come from Afghanistan – 3,179 in 2011 alone, and as a whole, refugee application acceptance is down. Overall applications are not decreasing though, so this means that more seekers are being detained, or turned away.

Many refugees refuse to return to Afghanistan. This leaves two ways for refugees to reach the shores of Australia. The legal way is to wait for permission to be granted through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees base in Jakarta. The second option is to go by boat. With disillusionment creeping in, refugees in Indonesia risk their lives and hope that they reach their intended destination. Ibrahim, the subject of the video below, left discriminatory violence in Pakistan, made his way to Indonesia, and tried to find asylum by choosing the latter option. The trip was cut short by storms and abandonment by the boat’s captain, leaving Ibrahim and hundreds more stranded in the sea. Hear his words below and read more of his story here.

[vimeo 53999224 w=500 h=281]


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