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Issue #1724      March 23, 2016

Deported to danger

A 42-year-old Hazara asylum seeker was forcibly deported to Kabul from Darwin on March 14 after appeals to the Minister for Immigration were rejected. The case once again highlights the deep flaws in the refugee determination process and the system of Ministerial discretion.

The Hazara man was first rejected at the Refugee Review Tribunal in March 2013. “There needs to be an appeal process that can deal with the fact that changed circumstances, in this case three years, can make a fundamental difference in any country’s situation, let alone in a country like Afghanistan,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “Afghanistan wasn’t safe in 2013. The situation is so obviously more dangerous in 2016.”

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs Afghanistan information in February 2016 warns of “the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack”; and that “the frequency of attacks in Kabul, including in the most heavily fortified areas of the capital, has increased significantly in 2015-16 and further attacks are be expected”. “Attacks”, it says, “can occur anywhere, anytime, particularly in Kabul, and the southern and eastern provinces.”

The Hazara asylum seeker was the first forcible removal to Afghanistan since two Hazaras were forcibly deported in late 2014. One of them, Zainullah Naseri, was removed in August 2014 on the basis of a December 2012 Refugee Review Tribunal decision. Following his return he was seized by the Taliban when attempting to travel to his home village along a road about which the Tribunal had stated that “the level of risk does not reach the threshold of a real chance”.

“The flaws that were obvious in the refugee determination process then have not been fixed. The dangers in Afghanistan are even greater now,” said Rintoul.

Meanwhile, an Iranian Arab refugee was held naked and handcuffed for a night and a day at the Nauru police station after he was arrested on March 10.

The refugee, who also works for Connect, an Australian service provider for refugees on the island, was arrested after police were called to an argument between the refugee and a local shopkeeper.

Even though the shopkeeper declined to make any formal complaint, the police arrested the refugee. At the police station, the Nauru police would not allow the man to make a phone call to call the Connect emergency number for assistance. Instead, he was handcuffed and placed in a cell.

After numerous pleas to police to remove the handcuffs, “to free my hands”, the police stripped the man of all his clothes, leaving him completely naked and handcuffed in the cell. “This is like Guantánamo”, the police said, “You might be a terrorist.”

He was kept naked and cuffed until he was released after a Connect manager attended the police station. No charge has been laid against the man, although he has been told he may have to appear at a court at an unspecified future date.

The arrest and brutalisation of the refugee is the latest example of the discriminatory policing of refugees on Nauru.

The incident also raises more questions about the complicity of Connect, the Australian-contracted service provider, with the discriminatory policing of refugees on the island. There have been previous incidents in which Connect has called the Nauruan police in regard to disputes over housing; one involving an Iranian female refugee who was held for several days. In another, a 44-year-old Iranian refugee was separated from his 8-year-old daughter and held by the police for almost two weeks after Connect called the police.

The arrest of the Connect worker comes only days after Nauru police said there was nothing they could do about a machete attack on another Iranian refugee at Nibok on March 5.

Despite requests for greater security, neither Connect nor the police have provided a guard for the man and his wife even though the locals responsible for the machete attack came the next night to attack their accommodation at Nibok, and threatened to kill them.

Connect have also declined requests by the threatened couple to be moved, even temporarily, to safe accommodation. Despite initial denials of the machete attack, the Nauru police came to Nibok on March 11 to “investigate the incident”. The police repeated their earlier statements that “We cannot do anything.”

“We lock ourselves in every night. We do not sleep at night for fear we will be attacked again,” the Iranian refugee told the Refugee Action Coalition, “But there is no one who will help us.”

Police and Connect are also turning a blind eye to a racket involving gangs of locals, often armed with machetes, stealing motorcycles from refugees in Fly Camp.

“Nauru is not safe for asylum seekers and refugees. The Nauru government is both unable and unwilling to provide the protection and secure future for the refugees they are holding for the Australian government,” said Ian Rintoul.

“That lack of safety is one more reason why the Turnbull government should not return the 267 asylum seekers who are presently in Australia, to Manus Island and Nauru. Allowing the 267 to stay should be the first step to closing the camps.”

Next article – Australia to become US military outpost?

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