Knowing what other human beings experience, those with empathy are likely to be driven to do what they can to help. The information following – including links to images, personal stories and more detail – might help you to compose a few sentences that could reach even the hardest heart, the most closed mind and the most falsely entitled attitude …
Some Origins of Currently Displaced People
“Syria’s civil war has created the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — have been killed or forced to flee their homes.” The war has killed a reported 470,000 people with bombings destroying crowded cities and horrific human rights violations being widespread. Basic necessities like food and medical care are sparse. The situation worsened when outside parties began launching airstrikes in 2015. Then in December 2016, fighting in Aleppo City intensified and the final stronghold within the city, fell. So it’s an understatement to say that families are struggling to survive inside Syria. Their options are to try and make new homes in neighboring countries or to risk their lives to travel further afield hoping to find acceptance and opportunity. This UNHCR site has images and information that reminds us of the people, the culture and the devastation that has shattered lives forever.
Major wars and persecution – the 1979 Soviet invasion and the Afghan Civil War (1992-96) where the mujahideen took over control of Kabul and the other major cities – have meant that about three in every four Afghans have endured internal, external or multiple displacement in their lives. The mass flight of Afghans from their homes has occurred in the context of human rights abuses on a massive scale under Taliban rule. So in 2015, there were 2.7 million Afghan refugees, the world’s second largest group after Syrians. … However “in the 1980s, Afghan asylum seekers in the US obtained asylum more easily than other groups facing comparable persecution because they discredited communism. Today, they have a harder time than other groups fleeing from similar circumstances because they are associated with Islamist terrorism.”
Millions of people have been forced to flee their homes in Iraq because of the Kurdish rebellions during the Iran–Iraq War (1980 to 1988); Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (1990) and the Gulf War (1991); the subsequent sanctions against Iraq; and the violence during and after the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The migration of engineers, artists, lawyers, academics, doctors has dismantled many cultural institutions and stripped Iraq of the services that these professionals provide. The infant mortality rate increased 150 percent from 1990 to 2005 and now 70 percent of Iraqis lack access to clean water and 80 percent lack sanitation, conditions leading to cholera epidemics. And now hundreds of thousands of people displaced from Syria have sought safety in Iraq.
Rohingya Crisis (Myanmar)
While the Rohingya people in Myanmar have been subjected to race and religious hatred for decades, from 2012 they have suffered an unrelenting campaign of state-led terror. They have had their land confiscated, their citizenship removed – their civil rights rendered meaningless – and their livelihoods destroyed. In 2012 alone, tens of thousands were forced into isolated camps where conditions mean that chronic malnutrition is rife and there is minimal medical care. In 2015, after increasing ‘ghettoisation, sporadic massacres, and restrictions on movement’ led experts to conclude “that the Myanmar government are in the final stages of an organised process of genocide against the Rohingya” and mass migration of thousands of Rohingya people – 25,000 of whom fled in vessels that were barely seaworthy between January and March of 2015 – saw these refugees dubbed “boat people” by international media. The Rohingya people are stateless. They have no home anywhere to return to. Their treatment has meant that they are often described as the most persecuted people in the world and very recently, in late August 2017, the violence increased when UN reported that the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following insurgent attacks. In two weeks, 120,000 more Rohingya people fled Myanmar and 400,000 more stateless people remained trapped in conflict zones in the west of the country. Two weeks later, a total of more than 420,000 had escaped to Bangladesh and with UN aid agencies blocked from delivering food, water and medicine and reports that stocks of emergency supplies are being looted, the situation worsened. One month later (in October 2017) almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees had left northern Rakhine state since the August escalation and nearly 340,000 Rohingya children and their families living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where food, clean water and health care are lacking are now at “very, very severe risk of outbreaks of water-borne diseases, diarrhoea and quite conceivably cholera in the longer-term” with one in five children under the age of five is estimated to be acutely malnourished, requiring medical attention.
These are just 4 of the origins of those seeking refuge in countries other than the places of their birth or citizenship. There are many more …
Central African Republic
A online search will quickly reveal the horrific circumstances of people from all these territories and the links within the summaries above also can provide more detail on the lives of those persecuted throughout the world.
Some Personal Stories
“I SAW MY CITY DIE” – Voices from the Front Lines of Urban Conflict in Iraq, Syria and Yemen (a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross)
Yves became a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo when both his parents were killed by rebel soldiers
Dala Banu is Rohingya refugee – persecution, loss and violence have replaced the rural life lived by generations of her family in Myanmar/Burma
Rahim, a medical doctor, fled oppression in Afghanistan … but in Australia, he was in detention for years and his refugee claim was rejected 9 times
Imran, Amir, Madu, Farhad, Atom, Naseem and Ben all describe their years on Australia’s offshore detention camps.
(See below for more on Australia’s offshore detention centres and/or go to the pages specifically on Nauru and/or Manus Island for additional details to those outlined in the linked report.)
Abyan, a 23 year old refugee held in detention on Nauru requested healthcare to end a pregnancy, the result of an alleged rape. She was flown to Australia but what followed only added to the trauma of what she had already had to endure.
(See below for more on Australia’s offshore detention centres and/or go to the pages specifically on Nauru for more details of the conditions on that island prison.)
Arash has never seen his infant daughter. He remains detained on Nauru but his wife was moved to Australia to give birth. Now the Australian Border Force has told him of his options: bring his family to be imprisoned on Nauru to apply for US settlement together OR relinquish custody of his child and be processed as a single man. All with no certainty of any offer from US immigration.
(See below for more on Australia’s offshore detention centres and/or go to this page specifically on Nauru for more details of the conditions on that island prison.)
Faysal Ishak Ahmed was born in Sudan and spent more than half his life in refugee camps. When he finally found his way onto a boat travelling from Indonesia to Australia, it was intercepted by the Australian navy and Faysal ended in detention on Manus Island. When he fell ill with chest pains and began to regularly lose consciousness, despite his pleas to the medical centre doctors, he wasn’t provided the serious medical care his health conditions required. But one day, Faysal collapsed for the last time. After 24 hours he was finally transferred to Australia. The next day, news of his death was published in the media.
(See below for more on Australia’s offshore detention centres and/or go to this page specifically on Manus Island for more details.)
Yahya is a 32-year-old Rohingya man imprisoned on Manus Island since 2013. With the detention centre imminently closing, the Australian government has offered money to Rohingya people who agree to return to Myanmar – where ethic cleansing has recently accelerated. The only other option for Yahya is to stay on PNG where he and others have already been attacked by locals. Yahya has made a choice …“I don’t want to die in PNG. I prefer to die in Myanmar.“
(See below for more on Australia’s offshore detention centres and/or go to this page specifically on Manus Island for more details.)
Some particularly poignant personal stories are captured by the drawings of children held in immigration detention centres …
and finally, to give us all hope for humanity …
‘The Man who loves Ducks’
a refugee on Manus Island who lives empathy –
genuinely an inspiration to us all.
Click on image to enlarge
Click on text link above or here to read full article
Current Policies and their Effects – Australia
In 2001, the Australian government instigated an offshore detention policy which has been continued by subsequent governments from both sides of politics, espousing the approach as the ‘solution’ to people without visas travelling to Australia by boat to seek asylum. Although Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention – to which Australia is a signatory – states clearly that those fleeing a territory where ‘their life or freedom is threatened’ to seek asylum have a lawful right to enter a country without the usual authorisation, Australian politicians at the highest level continue to incorrectly refer to those taking desperate measures to reach safety as “illegals“.
The commitment to detaining asylum seekers offshore in harrowingconditions continues to be justified by claims that a deterrent will diminish the operations of people smugglers and prevent people drowning at sea in efforts to reach Australia in unsafe boats. However, experts have stated that there is no evidence that a deterrent policy is effective is preventing asylum seekers in taking whatever means they can to reach a country where they might find safety for themselves and their families away from war, ethnic cleansing and genocide. In addition, it has been proven that turning back boats is not only ILLEGAL but has lead to an INCREASE in deaths.
But as, the legal communiqué excerpt here indicates, the need for governments to repeat messages of strong border security to feed the ever-growing public fear of terrorism is also a key motivation. So Australian governments choose to impose not just offshore incarceration but inhumane conditions on people who have used the only measures available to them to escape life-threatening danger and persecution.
Conditions in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru are such that a United Nations report has stated that the Australian Government has violated the right of asylum seekers to be free from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
The conditions include:
- severely overcrowded living quarters
- a serious lack in drinking water, adequate toilet and shower facilities, and basic essentials such as shoes and clothing
- inadequate health services
- uncertainty due to the indefinite nature of the detention, prolonged processing times, and fears over their futures leading to significant depression, stress and anxiety
- violence and abuse from tensions between asylum seekers and locals (including staff working for the centre) that has led to permanent trauma and fatal injury
The effects of this indefinite imprisonment are undeniable …
In February 2014, 23 year old Iranian Reza Barati was murdered when Papua New Guinea police entered the Manus Island detention centre and G4S guards ran riot, attacking asylum seekers. Barati, who was not involved in any rioting or protest, was fatally injured when he was allegedly attacked by detention centre staff with a wooden pole and then had a large rock dropped on his head.
In August 2014, 24 year old Hamid Khazaei died in an Australian hospital from severe sepsis of an infected leg 13 days after presenting to the medical clinic on Manus Island with a fever and chills. Staff at the detention centre’s medical clinic admitted that detainees suffering with conditions such as hypotension/fever needed to be treated urgently and at a higher level than could be provided in the facility.
In August 2017, 31 year old Hamed Shamshiripour, who had been suffering acute mental health crises for more than a year, (and who had displayed no mental health issues in his native Iran), was found dead in the forest near Manus Island’s Australian-run East Lorengau refugee transit centre. It remains unclear if he died as a result of self-harm or violence.
In October 2017, a Sri Lankan Tamil man – who had been formally recognised as a refugee and was legally owed protection – became the second person to commit suicide on Manus Island in less than two months.
“It becomes more and more clear, with every death and with every violent attack against innocent people in our care, that the only humane and responsible way forward is to immediately evacuate everyone trapped on Nauru and Manus to safety in Australia. Otherwise, further tragedy is inevitable.”
Daniel Webb (Human Rights Law Centre)
The human cost of offshore detention is undeniable. But it also economically unsound.
Between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the cost of the detention and processing of asylum seekers who arrived by boat increased from $118.4 million to $3.3 billion. In 2014, the National Commission of Audit also reported that, for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed was 10% of cost of the holding an asylum seeker in offshore detention.
Another research conclusion worth noting is that refugees bring positive economic changes to the communities in which they settle. The material, cultural and demographic benefits are the result of a number of factors including that (as is clearly proven by ABS statistics) humanitarian entrants to Australia are more entrepreneurial than settlers arriving through other streams of the immigration program.
In addition, a 2011 study indicated that the cost of mental health care over the course of one person’s lifetime can increase by up to 50% more than the average person if that person has been held for a lengthy period in immigration detention.
Financial logic – as well as legal and humanitarian obligation – would suggest that an investment in expedient ONSHORE processing would make better use of taxpayers’ money.
US RESETTLEMENT DEAL
To adhere to the Turnbull government’s LIFETIME BAN FROM ENTERING AUSTRALIA FOR ANY ASYLUM SEEKER ARRIVING BY BOAT, (that further cemented the policy instigated in 2013 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that those determined to be refugees who were detained on Manus Island would be resettled in Papua New Guinea and not Australia), a deal with the United States to ‘resettle’ an unspecified number of refugees from the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres was announced. But as the more detailed information on Manus Island on this site illustrates, the change of President in the US put the validity of that agreement into question and sent asylum seekers detained offshore into further turmoil.
However, on 20 September 2017, 25 refugees – most who had been held on Manus Island for more than four years – were told they had been accepted for permanent resettlement in the US. A few days later 27 of those held on Nauru were accepted.
52 people. Just over 4% the 1,250 who languish in Australia’s offshore detention regimes.
And not forgetting those who have been already been made to return to their country of origin, those who have been on boats that have been turned back, those who have been forced to remain in limbo elsewhere because of the cruel threat of a punitive regime in ‘the lucky country’ and those in detention on the mainland of Australia.
Those remaining retain their scepticism, particularly in relation to the Australian government. Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani stated from Manus Island:
“They are playing with us and they are wasting time. After a year, they only take 25 refugees and are using this deal to waste time. We are very worried they will keep us here for five years or even more.”
Daniel Webb (of the Human Rights Legal Centre) concluded:
“If our government then wants to prowl around the globe trying to find safe third countries, fine. But after four years of suffering and death, it is cruel and irresponsible to leave innocent people in danger any longer.”
And, with the announcement that the Trump government has committed to cutting back their country’s refugee intake even further, no one can be claiming that the US resettlement deal is any kind of answer. Particularly when there is yet another serious flaw in the US resettlement deal yet to be acknowledged by the Turnbull government. As a Senior Researcher at the US Center for Immigration Studies pointed out:
“most of these refugees are not keen on coming to the United States to begin with; Australia was and still is their preferred destination (many have family members already settled there). Also, what prevents these refugees from taking advantage of the American system and going to Australia as American citizens five years from now? Out-migration for naturalized refugees is not uncommon …”
So, the Australian government could still find that it has not only expended time, labour and taxpayers’ money while it put traumatised people through the further stress and upheaval of screening, processing and relocation … only to have these legitimate refugees migrate to Australia as US citizens in the future in order to be with their families.
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
The senseless cruelty of Australia’s detention policies has been internationally condemned. Criticism is frequent and unequivocal and there has been action by those at the highest levels of the law. This introduction to a submission in February 2017 by 17 of the world’s leading human rights lawyers to the International Criminal Court (accessible in full here or here), – an excerpt of which is also included above – is striking …
The extensive brief – lodged by renowned professors of international criminal law and experts in war crimes, global migration and humanitarian law (coordinated through the Stanford Law School’s Human Rights Centre), urges the ICC to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed knowingly by Australian officials and the Australian government’s private contractors.
The communiqué “finds that there is a reasonable basis to believe that public officials and corporate actors may have committed and may continue to commit the crimes against humanity of unlawful imprisonment, torture, deportation, persecution and other inhumane acts.” The authors state that the gravity of the alleged crimes is heightened due to:
- the large number of asylum seekers and refugees against whom they have been perpetrated;
- the nature and manner of commission i.e. that they include instances of severe physical and sexual violence as well as the systematic involvement of state and corporate superiors; and
- the fact that the impact extends “far beyond those detained” due to “the danger of the spread and normalization of crimes committed in this context.”
And yet, the opinions of the UN High Commissioner along with the world’s leading legal experts on crimes against humanity seem to carry the same weight with the Australian government as the screams of imprisoned abused children with no hope. Because, still the brutal treatment of vulnerable people continues …
WITHDRAWING ALL SUPPORT TO FORCE REFOULEMENT
NOW, the Australian government has turned to those held in community detention in Australia who were relocated from Manus Island or Nauru due to serious medical and protection concerns (acknowledging the lack of health support and high risk environment offshore) and removed their accommodation and access to financial support. The imposition of the new “final departure bridging visa” – already issued to more than 60 asylum seekers – means that these people will have all government financial support ended and face eviction from government-supplied housing within a week. In addition, it has been reported that up to 400 people – including families with infant children born in Australia – face having government support withdrawn in an effort to encourage them to abandon their protection claims, or return to Australia’s offshore detention islands of Manus and Nauru. As a result, the UN High Commissioner has condemned the Australian government for taking steps to coerce asylum seekers to return to the territory from which they have fled (aka ‘refoulement’) … knowing that the principle of non-refoulement is “the cornerstone of asylum and of international refugee law” and is a basic right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, a formal complaint has been lodged with UN rapporteurs who hold mandates from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the powerful UN body to which Australia is seeking election in November. Daniel Webb from the Human Rights Law Centre said the new visa regimen forced refugees and asylum seekers to face an invidious choice. “Dutton is forcing people to choose between destitution here or danger and abuse elsewhere,” he said. “Essentially, they are being starved out. …. These men and women were just starting to rebuild their lives in our communities. Now suddenly they’ve been completely cut off and are a week away from potential homelessness.” Two weeks after this strategy for asylum seekers who had been relocated onshore was revealed, it became public that the Australian government was also endeavouring to refoul Rohingya refugees incarcerated on Manus Island by pressuring them accept up to A$25,000 if they would agree to return to Myanmar … at a time when it has become clear that ‘ethnic cleansing’ against these people has become significantly worse. Yahya Tabani, a 32-year-old Rohingya man who arrived in Australia in 2013 but was sent immediately to Manus Island, said he had no choice but to return.
“I don’t want to die in PNG. I prefer to die in Myanmar. … Australia doesn’t care if we live or we die.”
For the 900 detainees remaining three weeks before the centre’s closure, the options are to put in an “Expression of Interest” to apply to move to the detention centre on Nauru, to transfer to another facility on Manus Island or into the PNG community. And with a notice warning that after 31st October, all food, water and electricity will be disconnected, the fences will come down and the facility will be handed over to the PNG Defence Forces, the fear has increased. Daniel Webb (HRLC) – who has been to Manus Island three times to investigate conditions on the ground – said:
“PNG military personnel have attacked these men once before. Now our Government is tearing down the fences and putting them in charge. The UN has already called this a humanitarian disaster. It could be about to turn into a bloodbath.”
CAN WE SIT BACK WHILE THE DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT OF A WELL-RESOURCED FIRST WORLD NATION DISCARDS THE BASIC RIGHTS OF HUMAN BEINGS WHO HAVE SIMPLY ASKED TO CONTRIBUTE TO A NEW SOCIETY WITHOUT CONSTANT FEAR OF PERSECUTION?
Or, before that, click on the links below to find out more about the lives of people imprisoned offshore on …
*** Please note that the situation on Manus is at crisis point with the Centre in the process of closing, leaving detainees with untenable options for their futures. We must act now so that the actions of the Australian government don’t impose further tragic damage on people already shattered by their treatment at the hands of those in power who seem capable of ruthless disregard for human life.
The situation on Nauru became especially disturbing with the leaked release of 2000+ incident reports listing assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and horrific living conditions endured by asylum seekers and refugees on the island. With children detained on the island, the statistic that 51% of the reports involved children, ongoing advocacy to remove all those placed on the island against their will continues to be ignored.