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'I'm happy, but I am also broken for those left behind': life after Manus and Nauru Elaine Pearson

Resettlement in the US has allowed some long-persecuted people to flourish, but that doesn’t let Australia off the hook   ‘In Nauru, I was called by my boat number, I was called “refugee”. I felt like I had that word plastered on my face. Here, the Chicagoans just call me Faisal, and if they don’t know my name, they even call me sir.’ Photograph: Human Rights Watch “To freedom.” Imran, a 25-year-old Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, raises a glass with a big smile. We are in a bustling restaurant on Chicago’s north side. This midwestern city seems a million miles from Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, or the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, yet it’s now home to several  Rohingya  men resettled under an agreement between Australia and the US. These new Chicagoans endured incredible hardships to find their freedom here. They fled ethnic cleansing and discrimination by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya Muslim minority, only to be sent to desolate Pacific island detention centres by the Australian government. Cormann and Dutton downplay chances of Australia accepting New Zealand refugee deal     Read more The last time I had seen Imran was in September 2017 on  Manus Island  in Papua New Guinea. Australian authorities had transferred him to Papua New Guinea in October 2013 and he remained trapped there until May 2018, when he departed for the US. When I saw him in 2017, he was stressed and anxious. “We are used to fear, we live with fear all our lives,” he told me. There had been a spate of violent robberies targeting refugees, and the PNG police hadn’t done anything about it. He was living with hundreds of men in a remote, guarded detention centre on a naval base. Now Imran’s biggest fear is getting through the next  Chicago  winter: “I never thought I would crave the sun so much.” Imran just completed his GEDs for a high school diploma and plans to study social work, nursing, or IT. “I can do things myself here,” he told me. “There is a system in place, I’m happy for that. Back on Manus, there was no system. They just lied to us.” Facebook Twitter Pinterest   Free at last: Imran Mohammad at Lake Michigan, Chicago. Photograph: Human Rights Watch For six years, under its  offshore processing policy , the Australian government has been paying foreign governments to keep refugees and asylum seekers in Australian-funded facilities. There are still more than 500 men and women in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. I’ve interviewed dozens of men, women and children about their experiences there. The years of detention and its toll on their mental health. The  robberies, assaults and violence , including sexual violence, with little law enforcement by local police. The woefully inadequate  physical  and  mental health care . But the US has enabled some of these forgotten and long-persecuted people to flourish and get on with their lives. Some got off to a rocky start. A conservative Rohingya Muslim, Ataullah, was pleased to move from  Nauru  to the US but was shocked to find himself initially resettled to Las Vegas. “I lasted three days and then I moved myself to Chicago,” he told me. He now works in a hardware store. Another Rohingya resettled from Nauru, Faisal, works as a server in a restaurant at O’Hare airport. “I can’t wait to be an American,” he told me. “In Nauru, I was called by my boat number, I was called ‘refugee’. I felt like I had that word plastered on my face. Here, the Chicagoans just call me Faisal, and if they don’t know my name, they even call me sir.” Faisal told me he left Bangladesh when he was 15 and was sold twice in Malaysia, forced to work in construction to pay off a debt to traffickers. He tried to come to Australia by boat with a relative but wound up on Nauru. He said he still has nightmares about the camp. “You wouldn’t recognise me there – I was a different person.” Faisal now looks like any other 20-something on the north side. He wears fashionably ripped jeans, a tidy T-shirt, and sunglasses. He pulls out his phone and shows me a photo of him in the camp looking gaunt and sad with vacant eyes. Now he’s proud to show me around the West Ridge neighbourhood, including the local Rohingya community centre. Manus and Nauru refugees in Australia on medical grounds can apply for US move     Read more Imran, Ataullah and Faisal are among more than 600 refugees who have been resettled in the US so far. But others haven’t been so lucky. The US has rejected about 300 refugees for resettlement, and Australia has repeatedly rejected New Zealand’s standing offer to take in 150 refugees per year, claiming that accepting it would encourage more boat arrivals as New Zealand is a “back door route” to Australia. For Imran, the happiness about moving on with his life is still tainted by the fact that others remain behind. “I’m happy of course, but I am also broken for those who are left behind. I think about them constantly.” The day I left Chicago, Imran wrote me on WhatsApp: “Freedom allows us to do so many great things. We are really grateful to be free and safe in this country. I will do my best to get an education because it will open my doors and will allow me to be a voice for others.” The US helped Australia out by resettling some refugees, but that does not let Australia off the hook. Given the litany of human rights violations, those who remain in Papua New Guinea and Nauru should be transferred immediately to Australia, whatever their final destination. The experiences of Imran and others are a lesson for Australia, that all people need is freedom and hope. •   Elaine Pearson  is the Australia director at Human Rights Watch
2019.12.19 13:06 | Maistas EN | Programming

Labor says Coalition spending .2m on visa IT system is 'fattening the pig for market'

Government says it will be responsible for ‘functions including immigration policy, visa decision making and security checks’ after impending sale     Labor’s Andrew Giles says the Coalition is ‘fattening the pig for market day’ by spending .2m on the visa IT system as it prepares to sell it. Photograph: James Ross/AAP The federal government has been accused of “fattening the pig for market day” with a .2m spend on the visa IT system just as it is preparing to sell it. This week’s midyear economic fiscal outlook (Myefo) included new money earmarked for “continued improvements to visa service arrangements” over three years. The Coalition government has been pushing ahead with the estimated bn privatisation of the visa processing system since well before the last election. It was supposed to  announce its decision on proceeding – or not proceeding – with a preferred tender in October . Scott Morrison cuts government departments in major public service changes     Read more With costs partially met from existing resources, the Myefo papers revealed an additional .6m in 2019-20 had been committed “to improve the online service delivery and data management capabilities of the visa and citizenship processing [information and communications technology] system”. “The measure will improve the Department of Home Affairs’ ability to verify the identity of individuals arriving in Australia,” the papers said. “The measure will also allow continued engagement with the market for a strategic technology solution to ensure Australia’s visa systems remain competitive, relevant and safeguard national security.” Guardian Australia sought further information from the home affairs department twice but received no response. The opposition spokesman on immigration and citizenship, Andrew Giles, accused the prime minister, Scott Morrison, of “fattening the pig for market day”. “He’s already spent m on the tendering process and now Morrison is spending more than m to upgrade the IT system in order to privatise it,” he said. Labor has consistently opposed the process, which has drawn significant attention and concern over  the national security and employment implications of privatising  the government function, and because a member of one of the two publicly known bidding consortiums  is run by Scott Briggs, who is closely linked to senior members of government . Both Morrison and the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, had recused themselves from consideration of the tender “due to conflicts of interest”. On Tuesday Giles said Dutton had refused to talk about the privatisation scheme “because it can’t be justified”. The government has previously said it would retain responsibility and accountability for “sovereign functions including immigration policy, visa decision making and security checks”.   Frydenberg presents Myefo as sunshine and rainbows but workers don't benefit Greg Jericho     Read more “The government is not privatising the visa system or outsourcing responsibility for visa decision making,” the home affairs department spokesman said. Guardian Australia has previously reported departmental briefings to industry which said the successful tenderer could offset the bn cost by raising revenue through “premium” services. However, Abul Rizvi, a former department deputy secretary, warned that that could see a private provider create fast and slow lanes for processing, which he said had “frightening” long-term implications. The Community and Public Sector Union said privatising visa processing threatened 3,000 jobs. “[T]his increased funding shows that the government are pushing ahead no matter the consequences,” said the CPSU’s national secretary, Melissa Donnelly. “The increased funding for privatisation today shows the government continues to ignore the international warnings from those that have gone down this path. “Visas are already expensive in Australia, and costs have risen rapidly in the UK in just a few years since visa processing was privatised there. Short-term budget gain will end in long-term pain for the Australian community under this plan. Meyfo shows that nothing is safe from privatisation under the Morrison government.”
2019.12.19 13:04 | Projects

Home affairs created fake horoscopes to discourage Sri Lankans from seeking asylum in Australia

Campaign material imagined negative predictions for each star sign if people ‘illegally’ travelled to Australia by boat   A horoscope created by Australia’s home affairs department as part of its advertising campaign discouraging Sri Lankans from seeking asylum by boat. Photograph: Department of Home Affairs The home affairs department created horoscopes as part of its advertising campaign discouraging Sri Lankans from seeking asylum in Australia by boat. The campaign material, which was written in English, imagined various negative predictions for each star sign if they “illegally” travelled to Australia by boat, including having family problems, feeling ashamed and being “in debt forever”. The poster was  obtained by Buzzfeed  under freedom of information laws, and appears to have been created some time in the last two or three years. The blunt language of the ad appears to be attempting to tap in to widespread enthusiasm for astrology in  Sri Lanka .   'I'm happy, but I am also broken for those left behind': life after Manus and Nauru Elaine Pearson     Read more “It is almost four years since any Sri Lankan person reached Australia on an illegal boat voyage,” the astrology poster said. “During this period, Australian authorities have stopped and returned more than 160 Sri Lankans who tried to go to Australia illegally by boat.” The department of home affairs has  variously revealed interceptions of boats  both before departure and during the journey, including five between May and August this year which originated in Sri Lanka. None of them made it to Australia, although others have. In April,  Sri Lanka was rocked by terrorist bombings  that killed more than 250 people. The Australian government has run international advertising campaigns in multiple countries which are typically sources of people seeking asylum. Billboards, posters, online ads  and graphic novels  are among the materials created to tell people not to seek safety in Australia by boat. Donald J. Trump   ✔ @realDonaldTrump     These flyers depict Australia’s policy on Illegal Immigration. Much can be learned!   69.5K 2:02 AM - Jun 27, 2019 Twitter Ads info and privacy   30K people are talking about this       The horoscope warned Aries that if they sought asylum by boat they could “expect people smugglers to take advantage of you”. Australian politics: subscribe by email     Read more “These criminals will take your money and you will be returned to Sri Lanka with nothing.” People under the Sagittarius were warned they would be returned to Sri Lanka by Australian authorities, and would be “in debt forever”. “Everything you risked to get there will be in vain and you will end up owing everyone.” Capricorns were told: “Deciding to risk your life on dangerous seas and unpredictable weather will be in vain. “If you travel illegally to Australia, you will be returned to Sri Lanka and encounter a storm of bad luck.”
2019.12.19 13:04

At 14, I walked through the desert to reach America. My story didn't end there

After Soledad Castillo escaped abuse in Honduras, America brought dangers of its own. On International Migrant Day, she shares her experience Soledad Castillo Wed 18 Dec 2019  11.00 GMT Last modified on Wed 18 Dec 2019  18.17 GMT     Soledad Castillo at border between California and Tijuana. Photograph: Voice of Witness I was born in  Honduras  in 1992. My parents broke up before I was born and when I was five, my father left for the United States. I lived with my mother and my sister and we were the poorest family in our small neighborhood. Eventually my mother got together with Faustino, the man who would become my stepfather. She was scared of him because he drank a lot and was violent. He used to hit my mom and throw chairs at her. One night my stepfather got drunk and came over to my bed and touched me inappropriately. I started yelling and ran out of the house. When my mom came home the next day, I told her what Faustino had done to me, but she didn’t believe me. She sent me to another part of the city to work for his relatives. I cleaned their house, took care of two babies, washed clothes. I was their servant. I was only 12. When my father returned to Honduras to see me for the first time in 10 years, I asked him to take me back to the United States because I didn’t have anything left in Honduras and I wanted to start a new life. It took us more than a month to get to the United States. We traveled from Honduras to Guatemala on a bus. There were gangsters on board who put a gun to my head, asking for all my money. I didn’t have any but they didn’t believe me. They took my pants off. I don’t remember their faces. I just remember their hands. I remember hands touching me all over my body and I couldn’t say anything. I was 14. We stayed in Guatemala for a day and then got in a van to travel to Mexico. We had to lie down with many people, one on top of the other. The coyotes [smugglers] put cardboard on top of us so la Migra   [the authorities]   wouldn’t see us if they pulled us over. It was hard to breathe. We then walked through the Mexican desert for days. There were around 20 people in our group from all over the world. Some people got lost and didn’t make it. On the second day, I became too weak, so my father paid the coyotes extra for a little pill to give me energy. After that, we rode in a van from Texas to northern California. There was a hiding place under the floor where they put us. It was a very long trip and we had to stay quiet the whole time. Facebook Twitter Pinterest   Soledad Castillo told her story in the book Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders With Youth Refugees From Central America. Photograph: Soledad Castillo When we got to Hayward, California, where my father lived, it seemed really fancy. I was blown away by the glass buildings. But reaching America wasn’t the end of my struggles, only the beginning. I wasn’t able to go to school because I had to work. I got fake papers that said I was 21, even though I was really 14. Then I started working at a laundry doing two shifts a day. I started at seven in the morning and I got out at one the next morning. I was also sending money to my mom. One night my dad got angry and hit me, so I ran away to stay with a friend. I became depressed and lost my job. I didn’t want to work or eat. A friend took me to San Francisco human services and I was put into the foster care system. The foster mother was old and she barely gave me anything to eat. She made me clean the house, so I was working for her without pay. She put me in summer school, and I passed out three times because I was starving. The foster program paid the foster mom around 0 per month to take care of me, but she’d take me to garage sales and buy me used clothes with holes. Then she used the money from social services to buy things for her daughter at the mall and gave the receipts to the social worker. I didn’t know how the system worked because no one told me that foster parents are not supposed to treat you like this. Even though the social worker spoke Spanish, she never asked me, “Soledad, how is everything going?” They’re supposed to talk to the child but we never had a private conversation about what was happening in the house. I was scared and nobody was there for me.   Even though the social worker spoke Spanish, she never asked me, 'Soledad, how is everything going?' When I turned 18, I moved to San Francisco to continue my education. Accessing housing and the education system was difficult. I eventually enrolled at City College and got a job at Safeway, ringing up customers, cleaning the floor. I was working full-time and taking classes but lived in poor conditions. Many Americans think that migrants come here to take their jobs, to do bad things, to take advantage of the country. These ideas are not right – we are not bad people. I came here to survive, to do better in this world, to help my family and other people. There was no way to survive in my homeland. I was suffering from extreme poverty. I was physically and sexually abused. I didn’t choose to come here; I didn’t have another option. And it’s been hard here in the United States: learning a new language and experiencing abuse in the foster care system; working multiple jobs and still being unable to make ends meet. Shoes, pills, diaries: objects seized by border officials – in pictures   I worked very hard at school, and I later transferred to San Francisco State University, where I graduated with a degree in liberal studies and criminal justice. I currently work as a housing case manager for homeless youth in San Francisco, supporting them with accessing housing, education, and employment – all the areas I struggled with as a young migrant. I want everyone to know that the story doesn’t end once migrants cross the border. It doesn’t even end if we are lucky enough to be granted asylum. The story, the hardships, the aspirations continue in the US. Improved immigration policies and humane asylum procedures are critical, but they are only a first step. Everyone needs protection and support. My dream is to become a social worker and improve the foster system so other children in the US don’t have to go through what I did. I want to make our cities safe, livable, healthy places for all people. I walked through the desert for days – to have these opportunities. On International Migrants Day this month – and beyond – seek out migrants in your community and listen to their stories. There are many ways you can support young migrants, such as donating or volunteering. Migrant narratives don’t end once we arrive in our new communities. We’re a part of this fabric and our stories aren’t over. Soledad Castillo is an advisory board member at  Voice of Witness , a not-for-profit human rights  organization. She shared her story in the book  Solito, Solita: Crossing Borders With Youth Refugees From Central America. She  works as a housing case manager in San Francisco
2019.12.19 13:02

Europe is home to a grave humanitarian crisis – but Brussels looks the other way Damian Boeselager

In a Greek refugee camp, adults are being stabbed or raped, while children freeze. This suffering shames our continent Wed 18 Dec 2019  13.18 GMT Last modified on Wed 18 Dec 2019  15.27 GMT     ‘The doctors working in the camp say the repercussions are dire. People are living without enough food, medical services or basic sanitation.’ Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images L ast month, I took a plane to Athens, and then another to get to the island of Lesbos. From the airport in Mytilene we drove to the village of  Moria , overlooking the Aegean Sea. The waters are clear and in the distance one can see Turkey, a mere five miles (8km) away. The whole trip took less than five hours from Brussels. From Moria, we drove to what was once an army base, surrounded by olive trees. Approaching the site, we could see people walking on the side of the road. First a few, then a small crowd, then so many that we couldn’t drive any further. Getting out of the car to walk towards the campsite, I saw all kinds of faces: young faces, old faces, women with children, children without mothers, men with injuries.   What’s the plan, Europe? Negotiations can be tough, sure, but we manage to find agreement on things such as the EU budget Once I passed the official barracks that house officials from the Greek ministry of citizen protection, I was met with rows of tents, halls, housing made of plastic – it looked like a construction site. And then I became aware of the smell, the result of people crowded in small spaces with limited access to sanitation. Beyond the confines of the actual camp, there was even more chaos, with homemade tents and piles of garbage. At night, I am told, the situation becomes worse. Women are being raped. Rather than using the communal washrooms, some women wear nappies so they can stay in their tents. And every night, someone is stabbed, someone’s property is stolen. The lack of a proper processing system has created a state of dreadful limbo, where people live in horrendous conditions without an end in sight. Some have been waiting more than two years to receive news about their asylum application. The doctors working in the camp, of which there are too few, tell me that the physical and mental repercussions are dire. People are living too close to each other for years at a time, often without enough food, or access to medical services and basic sanitation. This is a humanitarian crisis and it is happening on European soil. Standing in that camp, listening to people tell me their stories, I could not feel proud to be European. How could I be proud to be European – or even worse, proud to be a European representative – when I am standing idly by while people are dying avoidably, right here in  Europe ? The very place that pledges to become a leader in digital technology is also the continent that allows people to starve and die only five hours from Brussels. I got in the car and drove back to Mytilene. That night, 262 new migrants arrived just a few kilometres north of where I was staying. The next morning, I spoke to the people who were there trying to help. Lawyers, doctors, students, gym instructors, bicycle mechanics. They had come from everywhere. They could help some with their most basic rights and needs, such as handing out nappies to women. I felt helpless when they asked me what the plan was. Sometimes I thought about explaining how things work within the  European commission , the parliament, or why member states couldn’t agree on a negotiation approach – but then I stopped. They were asking me in the name of the boy who had died a week before from fever after being denied proper medical care; in the names of the 1,200 unaccompanied minors who were sleeping on the ground below the olive trees.   In Lesbos’s Moria camp, I see what happens when a child loses all hope Jules Montague     Read more That’s when it really dawned on me: Europe did not have a plan. And it was the first time I truly felt ashamed of being European. So I’m asking myself now: what’s the plan, Europe? Every night we don’t address the situation, another woman is likely to get raped, another child might die and another person will get stabbed. Negotiations can be tough, sure, but we manage to find agreement on things such as the EU budget. I accept that there are a number of possible solutions out there – some focused more on returns, some more on relocation. But I expect us to be honest, to comply with the laws and ethics of our continent. We must find short-term measures immediately, to meet the magnitude of the suffering. We should start with relocating the 1,200 unaccompanied minors freezing in the open right now. As an old Greek adage goes, you can’t hide an elephant under a rock. And if we keep turning a blind eye to people dying, I have trouble seeing how us politicians can feel any pride in the offices we hold. •  Damian Boeselager is a German MEP and a co-founder of Volt, a pan-European party
2019.11.22 17:28
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