As the realisation takes hold that they are shut out of Australia, growing numbers of asylum-seekers trapped in Indonesia are considering voluntarily returning to their homelands.
Asylum-seekers in Cisarua, south of Jakarta, told The Australian that Tony Abbott’s election victory was the final blow to lingering hopes of getting to Australia by boat and being allowed to stay.
The flow of Iranians, the most numerous boat arrivals this year, had already been slowed to a trickle by Kevin Rudd’s Papua New Guinea Solution, announced last month, and Indonesia’s nearly simultaneous decision to deny them visas on arrival.
The Iranians, who generally don’t face serious political or religious persecution at home, have been the quickest to seek repatriation and in the largest numbers.
The Australian understands 38 people, all but one Iranian, were to be flown out of Jakarta last night, with another group scheduled to leave next week.
The International Organisation for Migration, which operates the Australian-funded repatriation program, is seeing increasing numbers seeking information about voluntary repatriation but this has not yet translated into a strong increase in demand for “assisted voluntary return and reintegration” packages.
Nor is there any significant interest from Afghan and Pakistani Hazaras, the largest group among the 11,000 UN-registered asylum-seekers and refugees in Indonesia.
IOM’s head of mission in Jakarta, Denis Nihill, said: “(More people are) asking, expressing interest for the forms. Some of that is going on, but not enough to suggest that the figure is going to jump astronomically”.
Last month, after the PNG announcement, IOM dispensed 75 of the packages — air fares and reintegration assistance — which was “within the normal range”, Mr Nihill said.
Jafar Badri has been told by IOM he will be flown home next Wednesday with at least two other Iranian families.
Mr Badri, who arrived in Indonesia on Christmas Day last year, hasn’t seen his ticket yet and is anxious to do so because this is the fourth time in four weeks the 24-year-old has been told to get ready to leave a place he and his friends have come to loathe.
“There will be trouble for me in Iran, but the sooner the better,” Mr Badri said.
He had four friends leaving for Tehran on yesterday’s flight and he said he knew about 75 Iranian asylum-seekers in the Cisarua area being processed for repatriation.
During his nine months in Indonesia, Mr Badri said he’d been jailed for trying to board a boat to Christmas Island, was robbed and beaten in the street by Cisarua locals and had lost more than 20kg because of illness and malnutrition.
“The way we have been treated here has broken my heart,” Mr Badri said.
Changezi, a Pakistani Hazara, said that since Mr Rudd’s July 19 PNG Solution announcement most of his people had been hanging on for the Australian election, “thinking that if the new government was more compassionate, then they would still have taken a boat”.
“Now, most won’t take that risk,” Changezi said.
“But there are still some who are ready to go and the agents tell them all kinds of stories. Some say the agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea is only for one year — then the people will be sent to Australia.”
Overwhelmingly, asylum-seekers now knew they had no prospect of settling in Australia, said Hassan, one of the very few Hazaras who has asked to be sent back to Pakistan.
For most Hazaras, facing real persecution at home and risking slaughter by Taliban militants and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists, a PNG processing camp was preferable to repatriation or Indonesian immigration detention.
“At least in a PNG camp your food and safety is guaranteed by the Australians,” Hassan said.
Two of his friends, one a 17-year-old boy, left Cisarua with an agent late on Monday night and at 2.44am the next day messaged that they were at sea.
Their boat, carrying between 60 and 80 asylum-seekers, should reach Christmas Island waters late today or tomorrow morning.
Hassan’s friends paid $US3500 ($3775) each for their passage, a 30 per cent reduction on the price prevailing in the past two months and another clear signal that the trade was drying up for many people-smuggling agents, but was not yet dead.
- Australia to continue Papua New Guinea asylum seeker scheme (craighill.net)
- Indonesia rejects Australian people-smuggler plan (craighill.net)
- People smugglers take to the sky with Australian asylum seekers (craighill.net)
- Reporters on asylum seeker boat land in Australia (miamiherald.com)
- Where to now for asylum seeker policy under Tony Abbott? (sbs.com.au)
- ‘We reject his policy on asylum seekers’ (smh.com.au)
- Keep Rudd asylum-seeker policy: Burke (news.smh.com.au)
- Boat carrying asylum seekers intercepted (bigpondnews.com)
- Reporters on asylum seeker boat land in Australia (nzherald.co.nz)
- An asylum seeker boat arrives (bigpondnews.com)
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