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Australian Current Affairs

People smugglers hit hard by Australia’s Papua New Guinea solution

Afghan asylum seeker Noor Agha (black shirt) and friends discuss the Australian policy changes in Cisarua

Afghan asylum seeker Noor Agha (black shirt) and friends discuss the Australian policy changes in Cisarua

Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea solution has bit savagely in west Java, where Afghan asylum seekers have immediately begun telling people smugglers they are cancelling their planned boat trips to Christmas Island.

After the Prime Minister’s announcement, it did not take long for the news to circulate in the mountain-top resort city of Cisarua, where an estimated 5000 asylum seekers were awaiting to make boat trips.

By Saturday morning, groups of Afghan men, who are highly visible on the streets, were saying they would never accept settlement in Papua New Guinea and began instructing intermediaries working for the smugglers that they would not be going.

The Afghans generally do not pay the smugglers in advance. Because the Afghan networks have become such an established business here since 1999, the smugglers trade on their good name and their guarantees to deliver people to Australia.

Afghans – who travel cheaper by boat than people of other nationalities, usually paying around $3000 – told News Corp Australia that they would now register with the UNHCR and wait for legal resettlement because the idea of PNG seemed too shocking to them.

One man, Noor Agha, 35, an ethnic Hazara, told how he had arrived on Ashmore Reef in 2001 and had been shipped on HMAS Tobruk to Nauru. He waited there a year and a half but finally accepted a voluntary repatriation to Afghanistan after his son was born in terrible conditions in the camp.

He said his return to Afghanistan had been disastrous, with his life in constant danger.

Noor arrived back in Indonesia last month, ready to try again – and hoping he could bring his family after him.

He was awaiting word of a time to be put on a boat when Mr Rudd’s announcement changed his world.

“The decision of Kevin Rudd will stop the boats,” said Noor, who with a group of friends, also recent arrivals, said they would no longer be going.

“I am hopeful after this decision, Kevin Rudd will take refugees (registered with) UNHCR much quicker.”

Asylum seekers rely on smugglers of their own nationality. But Iranians, who have recently outstripped Afghans as the biggest group trying to get to Australia, do not have the same smuggler or information networks as the Afghans.

We spoke to a group of Iranians who had each paid $8000 to get to Australia. These men were hiding out in a villa awaiting passage, and in the company of lower-rung Iranian in the smuggler network who became irate that we were talking to his clients.

The men were confused about the news from Australia and asked us to explain what was going on.

Told of Mr Rudd’s plan – that anyone arrive by boat after Friday would not have any chance of settling in Australia, but could go to PNG if they were found to be refugees – they said they would be going to Australia anyway.

“We can’t get our money back,” said one of the Iranians. “We go anyway. We paid the money.”

The men, who had all arrived a month ago from Tehran, comforted themselves by saying that the Rudd plan was a political ruse.

Amid the disappointment, there is some hope for the people here who have registered with the UNHCR and are awaiting resettlement to a country, preferably Australia.

They are slowly coming to terms with the fact that the reason they have languished so long in this area without being resettled is because those who have gone ahead in the boats have taken their place in Australia’s resettlement program.

But some have lost hope altogether and are stuck, not knowing what to do. One family, who identified as ethnic Tajic from Afghanistan, a group rarely seen in Indonesia, have lost all appeals to be recognised by the UNHCR as refugees.

The father, Abdul Basir BaShardost, 47, paid money to the smugglers in 2011 to take his wife and five children to Australia but were ripped off.

Mr BaShardost worked for government intelligence in pre-Taliban times and says he is despised by both Taliban hardliners and the current regime. “We have no answers,” he said.

Like all families, they are unable to send their children to local schools.

For many who have registered with the UNHCR, the boats were always a last resort – but it was at least an option. Now that has changed. No one we spoke to said they would ever consider taking up a new life in PNG.

For most, it is Australia or nothing. Mr Rudd’s PNG solution appears to be having the desired outcome in the heart of the people-smuggling world.

Source: News.com.au – Rudd’s decision will stop the boats, Afghan asylum seekers declare

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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