Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced on Friday that asylum seekers arriving on Australian shore via boats will no longer be resettled within the country’s borders but will be sent to Papua New Guinea instead.
Not only has the decision created a stir amongst the global humanitarian agencies which view the move as an evasion of responsibility by the Australian government, it also has a direct impact on the Hazara community in Pakistan. Over the past few years, a significant number of Hazaras have sought refuge in Australia.
According to Huma Fauladi, a peace activist in Quetta, every Hazara now wants to leave the country because of the constant threat to life and the deteriorating security condition.
“Nearly 90% of those who migrate to other countries, including Australia, do not have the means to qualify as legal immigrants. Therefore, they risk everything to get on a boat and save their lives,” she says. “But decisions like these [Rudd’s announcement] might hamper even this route for them.”
According to members of the community, the option to resettle in Papua New Guinea as an alternative is not favourable, because of the high prevalence of violence, crime, disease and unstable conditions in that country.
“The decision by the Australian government seems inhuman to me,” says Fazil Hussain Moosavi, a Hazara in Quetta whose nephew and several other close relatives were forced to flee to Australia nearly three years ago. “It is literally a choice between leaving and dying, and even the former seems greatly threatening now.”
Moosavi says most migrants chose Australia despite the rough journey because assimilation and acceptance was easier there, compared to other countries.
‘No place to go’
Zohra Yousuf, chairperson for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), has also termed the decision as “another door closed” for Pakistani Hazaras.
“It should be humiliating for the Pakistani government that a community feels so unsafe in their own country that they put their lives at risk to migrate to other places,” she exclaims. “And now, with this recent stance by the Australian government, there will really be no place left for the Hazaras to go.”
Yousuf emphasises, quite strongly, the need for governments across the globe to be more sympathetic to refugees. While individual cases, like Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl accused of blasphemy who later sought refuge in Canada, are dealt with more generously, things become complicated when entire communities are involved.
Although no action on this announcement had been taken by the HRCP so far, the organisation may look into it very soon. However, Yousuf says she hopes Canberra will soften its stance before the need for action truly arises.
Rudd’s eyes on upcoming poll
Although Rudd claims that the decision was taken to ensure border security and discourage people from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat, many today are accusing the premier of political point-scoring over the issue of asylum, which remains one of the key issues in the upcoming Australian elections.
Statistics reveal that nearly 600 deaths have been caused due to accidents at sea since 2009. According to local website Hazara.net, nearly 300 Pakistanis have lost their lives trying to get to Australia by boat and the unofficial death toll is predicted to be much higher.
Australia, which hosts 0.3% of the world’s refugee population, receives its largest influx of asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran and Bangladesh. According to a report in The Sydney Morning Herald, the number of Afghans arriving via boats on Australian shores has risen by 79 per cent to 3, 079, while the number of Pakistanis has jumped by 84 per cent to 1, 512 over the last year.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2013.