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Seeking Asylum
<p>Supplied</p>

Supplied

The face of an assassinated asylum seeker: Ali Shah tried to escape Pakistan’s sectarian violence and come to Australia, but he was murdered en route.

Australia’s Deadly Game

The Global Mail investigates how Australian authorities are co-operating with corrupt local authorities who bend the law to keep would-be refugees trapped in a country that they desperately want to escape.


Ali Shah was not meant to die in Pakistan. He should have already been out of the country, somewhere on the long smugglers’ route to safety in Australia.

But a bullet got to him first.

Shah was a 28-year-old from Quetta, a restive city near the Afghan border, haunted by Sunni Muslim death squads that are allied to the Taliban and which kill with near total impunity. As a Shia and a policeman, Shah was automatically in danger. As a Hazara — a Shia minority with east-Asian features distinct from surrounding ethnic groups — his face betrayed him.

Early this year, Shah paid $6,000 to smugglers, who would fly him legally to Thailand and then smuggle him over land and sea to Indonesia; once there he would search for another smuggler with a boat to Australia.

“Definitely they do have a profiling... There’s no strictly legal regime for this.”

He travelled first to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and waited with five other Hazara men for a flight to Bangkok. But this plan was foiled when the smuggler returned to the men who were waiting in Islamabad, and told them the way would be blocked: airport officers would not let the men board unless they paid a hefty extra bribe to pass through. The smuggler suggested the men travel by train to Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, where a cheaper pay-off at the airport could be arranged.

At about 1.30am on April 4, the Hazara group arrived by rail in Karachi, and began to wander the streets in search of a hotel. Suddenly two men, their faces covered, pulled up on a motorbike and opened fire. Shah dropped to the ground, mortally wounded. Another man, Ismat Ullah, was shot through the leg.

Ullah watched as the men rifled through Shah’s clothes, stealing money and a phone. As they sped off, Ullah recalls, the attackers gave a clue to their motivations, yelling out “Shia are infidels!”

Months later Ullah, 25, is back in Quetta and still injured. But he says he wants to try the trip to Australia again.

“Just only one thing,” he says. “We are safe there, that’s why. We are not safe here.”

THE DEATH OF ALI SHAH sheds light on a largely under-reported front in Australia’s war to stop an increasing number of boats bringing asylum seekers from the trouble spots of Asia and the Middle East. For more than a decade, government agencies have focussed their efforts on what are termed “disruption” activities overseas. This means working with foreign governments to arrest people smugglers and cut off their funding, as well as stopping asylum-seeker boats in transit countries like Indonesia before they leave port.

But in recent years, Australian authorities have increasingly turned to a strategy some find disturbing: they are taking their mission directly to countries such as Pakistan that are sources of refugees, rather than concentrating on the transit points. And in collaborating with local authorities, their efforts have gone beyond targeting people smugglers — they’re also using the powers they gain locally to directly stop the escape of asylum seekers themselves.

From a human rights perspective, Australia’s actions in Pakistan arguably cross a dangerous new line.

Australia has long thumbed its nose at its international legal obligation to provide shelter to the world’s persecuted, argues Mustafa Qadri, an Australian human-rights advocate who covers Pakistan for Amnesty International. But using local authorities to keep threatened people such as the Hazaras bottled up in Pakistan’s borders takes things much further.

“You’re looking at a population that is persecuted in the worst kind of way, and the Australian authorities appear to be effectively trying to stop them from trying to go somewhere where they will be safer. It’s pretty shocking,” Qadri says.

In Pakistan, this campaign has gone ahead with little fanfare. Since 2009, officers of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Australian intelligence agents have been part of an increased effort to stem the movement of asylum seekers, according to interviews with Pakistani law-enforcement officers, publicly available Australian Senate records, and annual reports of the AFP. A large part of this has involved co-operation with Pakistan’s civilian Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which investigates crime and also manages immigration at Pakistan’s borders and ports.

In part, this co-operation — which has involved intelligence sharing, technical help and training — has been focussed on catching people smugglers. But increasingly the pressure applied by Australian authorities has resulted in Pakistan using ethnic profiling to try to seal off its borders to Hazaras trying to escape.

In the same way that Hazaras’ features make them a target of jihadi killers, their ethnicity now inhibits their travel — at Australia’s apparent urging. And at the same time as Australia co-operates with Pakistani authorities, Pakistan’s powerful military is accused by locals and some security analysts of, at best, doing little to stop the killing of more than 100 Hazaras by hardline Sunni militants in Quetta this year. At worst, some elements of Pakistan’s military may be linked to extremists.

Australia’s foray into overseas disruption of people smuggling began in 2000. The Coalition government of then Prime Minister John Howard implemented a multi-agency approach to try to stop the arrival of asylum-seeker boats. It included advertising campaigns in source and transit countries, aimed at discouraging people from taking the journey. But at that time the main focus of the Coalition was on deterring arrivals via the extended detention of asylum seekers, and the “Pacific Solution” of offshore detention.

<p>BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty</p>

BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty

Relatives mourn the death of eight people, including seven Hazaras, after a series of targeted sectarian killings in April 2012. More than 100 Hazaras were murdered in Quetta this year.

All this changed with the election of Kevin Rudd’s Labor government in 2007. Having rejected the Howard government’s detention policy, Labor was left with few deterrent options when a surge of boats began arriving in late 2008. One remaining strategy was to ramp up disruption efforts overseas. In 2009, more than $41.5 million was pledged over four years to combat people smuggling, and the AFP sent specialist officers to transit countries Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both source countries of refugees, also received more officers.

In 2000, there were just 10 federal police officers working solely on people smuggling. By 2011, there were 99 based in Australia, plus 10 posted overseas: six in Indonesia, and one in each of the other countries. There are also officers based overseas and within Australia who periodically work on people-smuggling issues. Since September 2008, 317 people have been convicted of people smuggling offences, both in Australia and overseas, according to Customs and Border Protection. Of these, 311 were boat crew members; six were organisers.

In Sri Lanka, authorities have during recent years been involved in a well-documented campaign to intercept and turn back boatloads of people trying to leave their waters. The Australian government argues that many of the people fleeing Sri Lanka are economic migrants, but refugee advocates argue that people blocked at sea or deported from Australian detention centres face the risk of torture or abduction on their return to Sri Lankan territory.

In Pakistan, the approach to preventing people from leaving to seek asylum is less well known — and appears to go a step further.

On the ground in Pakistan, Australia’s footprint is far larger than the limited number of officers in service suggests. The Federal Police regularly supply intelligence on alleged people smugglers to Pakistan’s FIA, as well as providing the organisation with training and technical support, according to Azad Khan, the head of the agency’s anti-people-smuggling unit in Karachi.

More controversially, Australia has in recent years also urged the FIA to block Hazaras from travelling if it suspects they intend to seek protection overseas, Khan says. In effect, this is a policy of ethnic profiling, aimed at a community that makes up a large share of asylum seekers, and who are unusually easy to pick out of a crowd.

“Definitely they do have a profiling. Anybody who thinks that he or she doesn’t have a reasonable answer that they are going to southeast Asia, they do stop them and in some cases they offload them [at airports],” Khan says, adding that the emphasis of co-operation with Australia is “on stopping” asylum seekers from departing.

Khan concedes that the policy is both morally and legally debatable. “If [asylum seekers]approach us through a court of law then we will have a problem. If you look at it from a human rights standpoint, they have a right to go anywhere,” he says.

“There’s no strictly legal regime for this.”

<p>BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty</p>

BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty

A Pakistani Hazara mourns the death of a relative after an April 2012 shooting.

KARACHI IS A MAJOR DEPARTURE POINT for both Pakistani asylum seekers and Afghans — many of them also ethnic Hazaras — who have slipped across the border, often via Quetta, and obtained false Pakistani documents. To combat this flow, the AFP has been instrumental in installing a computerised system known as EDISON in Pakistani airports, which enables detection of fake passports, Khan says.

Much of the intelligence Australia supplies is gleaned from interviews with asylum seekers in Australian-run detention centres and in Indonesia, according to Khan. Australia also relays information from investigations conducted by the Indonesian National Police. While this intelligence is used to pursue people smugglers, it also has been channeled into an immigration blacklist, which effectively bars travel to suspected asylum seekers and, in some cases, to regular asylum seekers who have been detained in Indonesia.

This sort of co-operation also stretches beyond major cities such as Karachi, and into some of Pakistan’s most dangerous areas. In Quetta, the Federal Police, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and other officials from the Australian High Commission are in regular contact with local authorities to crack down on people smuggling, according to one senior Pakistani law-enforcement officer in Balochistan province, where Quetta is located. The officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also confirms the existence of the profiling policy.

“Profiling in the sense that this Hazara community, they have these, you know, salient Mongolian features if you just look at them,” he says.

There is no suggestion that the FIA is linked to the Sunni extremists who are targeting Shias. But other elements of the Pakistani state, including the powerful Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), are widely thought to have links to militants. Pakistan’s government has done little to curb the violence in Quetta. And for Amnesty International’s Qadri, this simply makes it clearer Australia is in violation of its international legal obligations by working with them to block the escape of asylum seekers.

“I think that makes Australia actually extremely complicit [in the persecution of Hazaras],” he says.

The Global Mail submitted a list of written questions to Australian Customs and Border Protection, which takes a lead role in overseeing Australia’s whole-of-government approach to foreign people-smuggler-disruption efforts, including those of the AFP. The responses by Customs affirmed Australia’s general policy of disrupting people smuggling overseas, but did not specifically address questions relating to intelligence sharing, technical assistance or efforts by foreign authorities to block asylum seekers from leaving either transit countries or their country of origin (see the questions and responses here). A separate request for comment from the AFP was referred back to Customs.

“I think that makes Australia actually extremely complicit [in the persecution of Hazaras].”

FOR ALL AUSTRALIA’S EFFORTS in Pakistan there appears to be no change to the flow of asylum seekers leaving the country. And despite regular contacts and intelligence sharing, there have been few tangible successes.

Asylum seekers in Pakistan and Indonesia — as well as two people smugglers contacted in Quetta — describe a crackdown that has simply opened up further opportunities for bribe taking by Pakistani authorities, making the cost of seeking asylum in Australia more expensive.

One of the few successes of Australian efforts, being touted in Pakistan at the moment, is the trial in Quetta of Haji Ali Zafar, an alleged people smuggler. But one such conviction would be only a drop in the bucket in this city, which is an international hub for the smuggling of illicit goods ranging from people to weapons and narcotics.

FIA agents frequently arrest suspected people smugglers in Quetta, but release is routinely secured in return for payment, says Mustafa, a smuggler operating in the city, who asked to be identified by only his first name. “About 200,000 or maybe 300,000 [Pakistani rupees, about $2,000-$3,000] and they release them on the spot,” he says.

After expenses, Mustafa estimates he makes about $50,000 profit a year. “[It’s] not too much, because I’m spending all of them on the other ways,” he says, in broken English. “Like gambling, like spending them on the girls. Drinking them, drinking some Jim Beam.”

Mustafa estimates there are about 50 people smugglers operating in Quetta, who are part of networks that arrange passage as far as Indonesia. Part of the job of local smugglers is to co-ordinate ahead with the FIA, bribing them in order to allow asylum seekers through. The cost of the bribe needed to pass through Karachi’s airport has recently risen dramatically. Early this year, the average bribe cost somewhere between $300-$400; it is now $700-$1,000, he says.

<p>BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty</p>

BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty

Another sectarian mass murder, another riot in response: another day in Quetta, Pakistan.

“When we are paying them money, they never stop them. And when we are not paying them money as they required, they are sending back, even sometimes they are taking them to jail.”

This information is corroborated by another people smuggler, as well as by the experience of asylum seekers interviewed by The Global Mail. One Afghan in Indonesia, who travelled via Pakistan on false documents obtained in Quetta, says he and two other Hazara asylum seekers were blocked from travelling at Karachi airport in July.

The asylum seeker says he was instructed by an FIA officer at the airport to return to his smuggling agent, and to wait while a price was negotiated. No one appeared to have noticed his fake passport, and within a few days the bribe was settled. The people smuggler informed him it was time to start his long journey to Australia.

“They just give me the name of the counter: ‘You should just go to counter five. My guy is sitting there,’’’ the Afghan man says.

21 comments on this story
by Joseph Castley

The cruelties of the Howard era made one feel ashamed to be Australian. It promised to be better when Rudd was elected, but since then the fear of electoral loss has meant Labor's caving in to Tony Abbot and Scott Morrison, virtually allowing their ignorance and fearmongering to dictate policy. What Ron Merkel QC said this week of Howard's Northern Territory Intevention and Labor's continuation of it with the Stronger Futures legislation applies here: "it is a history of unutterable shame." Congratulations to The Global Mail on its efforts to bring this to the attention of the Government. But while they feel electorally threatened we can expect no genuine attempt to learn about situations like those detailed here. They simply do not want to know the truth because they cannnot envisage any way of educating and leading the Australian people in ways that square with our traditional humanitarian values.

December 13, 2012 @ 7:13am
by Fabia Claridge

Thank you GLOBAL MAIL for doing this story!! It is so shocking . What I suspected but so so very shameful to be Australian

December 13, 2012 @ 1:13pm
by Pamela Curr

We have credible reports that the Australian government has sent Afghan government agents into Hazara villages with photos and information from Australia about
Hazara asylum seekers here. They are circulating this information and asking people to verify the id of the person in the photo and telling them that they are in Australia.
This is covered in the MOU which was signed By the Governments of Australia and Afghanistan AND UNHCR

"10. Afghans departing Australia under the terms of this MoU may do so on a travel document issued by either the Government of Australia or the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will, when requested by the Government of Australia, assist with the verification of Afghan nationality and the issuance of travel documentation to facilitate the return of Afghans. This will be done within the shortest possible time and, no later than six weeks after the request. The Government of Australia will provide financial assistance to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to facilitate the verification of the identity of persons claiming Afghan citizenship. "

These Hazara men were assessed under the discredited and discontinued IMR system by REVIEWERS among whom were some who refused ALL asylum seekers. It was a shonky system designed especially for boat arrivals.

December 13, 2012 @ 3:59pm
by Mansoor

A very well researched and heartbreaking article.

December 13, 2012 @ 6:58pm
by Arif Hazara

Utmost gratitude dear Aubrey for highlighting the evil policies of Australian Government.

This punitive policy in pretext of deterrence has dented Australia's human rights face as one would have never thought. The evil shadow of Howard Government can clearly be seen in Julia's policies.

By backing, aiding and providing technical support to the notorious ever Federal Agency in Pakistan, this Government has sunk new lows, FIA has been playing double game with the Australian Government, they take hefty bribe from both sides, the asylum seekers and the Australian Government.

December 13, 2012 @ 11:28pm
by Altaf Hussain

Really great work of Mr. Aubrey Belford and the team of Globalmail for such a detailed information, No one of Australian Gov and other government of the world knows whats the exact situation of Quetta, Pakistan for the people of Hazaras, they cant go to their offices, cant go to their jobs, students cant go to their schools, colgs, uni etc. Hazaras are just bound to be just on their own area, which is in two side of Quetta, Alamdar Road and Hazara Town, Hazara families cant join the marriages party, dead ceremony etc of their own relatives because from Hazara town they cant come to Alamdar road and the same from Alamdar road to Hazara town, the purpose of saying this you can imagine we are in a "Jail".
Even today 3 incidents happent in 3 area in 1 hours, one in Rush area of Qandhari Bazar, two Hazaras wonded, 2nd in Jinah Road which a Hazara Govt' servent was going to his office wonded, and 3rd in Dauble road 1 shia wonded.

December 14, 2012 @ 3:22am
by Riz

Life is getting even tougher day by day for Shi'ites in almost every part of Pakistan. Hazara community in Quetta and Shi'ites of Gilgit in the north of Pakistan have no way out but to surrender before death.
The government backed Taliban-minded deobandi(Wahabis) are launching planned campaigns to annihilate Shi'ites from Pakistan. Earlier my conviction of the real culprits responsible for the Shi'ite Genocide in Pakistan was confined to those Taliban, Wahabi Terrorists, Pakistan Government and Saudi Arabia(The biggest sponsor and fund provider for the Terrorists). But lo and behold ! Australia emerges as another contributor to the Shia Genocide. Shame on Australian government and its officials who support terrorists against an oppressed ethnic group. It's a big shame for all Australians and the whole (so called) civilized world.

Hope ! My comment is not conveyed to the terrorists(Taliban and Pro-Taliban Wahabis) by any Australian cuz I've already recieved tens of Death Threats. And after all I've to live in Gilgit (Administered by Pakistan)

December 14, 2012 @ 8:04am
by Bator Ali

Many thanks to Aubrey Belford for such detailed article. The truth of the matter is much worst than stated in this article, one needs to be a Hazara and live through the issues to fully understand the extend barbarism faced. One can hardly find any other ethnic group in the world who is more persecuted and venerable than the Hazaras both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hazaras are truly refugees in urgent need of protection and signatories to refugee convention of 1951 must provide a safe shelter for them. It baffles me to read that the Australian government instead of inserting pressure on Paksitani government to normalize the situation, asking them to prevent Hazaras from leaving Pakistan. That in it-self is a violation of most basic human rights.

December 14, 2012 @ 10:24am
by habibullah

A well written article, what factors make people to leave Quetta, instead of asking to block the flow of people Australia should tell Pakistan to normalize the situation. When it comes to the case of Ali Shah yes it is true on that time I was in Karachi. The efforts by Australian authorities has changed nothing in term of people smuggling but just raised the cost of journey. I think Australian intelligence agency should cooperate and teach the ISI that how to arrest the culprits rather than asking to stop the people and I think this solution does not work as it is perceived that people keep coming and making trip via boat to Christmas island.

December 15, 2012 @ 4:47pm
by R

In response to Pamela Curr's comment:

If this is true, this is extremely concerning. It's no surprise that Hazara asylum seekers are reluctant to disclose full details of their background/history in their refugee claims. Given that the majority of Hazara asylum seekers have a wife and children back home, they are concerned that full disclosure will put their loved ones at risk, when the Australian government verifies their claims with Pakistan. But in withholding information, they run the risk of their refugee claims being rejected, and ultimately being returned. A very difficult dilemma.

December 17, 2012 @ 2:09pm
by Thomas McLoughlin

Did Australia send intelligence officers to disrupt white South African, or white Rhodesians immigration to Australia?

Would any Australan politician today give theoretical support for the rejection of Jewish refugees in Europe in the 1930ies?

Australiaq routinely allows 150-200,000 economic or family reunion immigrants a year. That is, people who do not face persecution or murderous violence.

Mmm. I thought the Catholic and other Christian Churches in Sydney where I live would be alot stronger and critical - publicly - on this with the Coalition side of politics. In the season of a famous refugee family.

December 17, 2012 @ 5:41pm
by Marilyn

Come on Tom, the churches are being paid to make life more and more difficult for refugees.

December 18, 2012 @ 2:46pm
by Doug

Marilyn
Which Government agency is paying which church agencies? How much? Under what programs?

Anyone involved in community activity in support for refugees would know that churches and church agencies are active in trying to provide support for refugees in the Australian community.

December 20, 2012 @ 10:15am
by Phil Lovering

Why should Australia accept evry person who whats to leave their own country? If we open the flood gates to everyone Australia will be another basket case as these peasants seek a better life! You get the government you deserve!

December 26, 2012 @ 1:26pm
by Phil Lovering

Why should Australia accept evry person who whats to leave their own country? If we open the flood gates to everyone Australia will be another basket case as these peasants seek a better life! You get the government you deserve!

December 26, 2012 @ 1:26pm
by Philip Lovering

I am horrified that Arif Hazara and other think that Australia is somehow evil and that somehow we have to "square with our traditional humanitarian values."
Let's get one thing straight here - Thomas McLoughlin is right when he writes that " allows 150-200,000 economic or family reunion immigrants a year".
Why don't these so called refugees who I might add are usually trying to escape the poverty brought on them by their corrupt theocratic governments, usually Muslim, go to another Muslim country not criticize Australia for rejecting or "shame" actually trying to control who come to Australia!
This article (by Aubrey Belford) is biased, unjustified and implies, nay, states that Australian values are somehow lacking!
Bedford, try doing some real Research on the 200,000 people Australia takes in each year - they get medical & financial support from day one yet most are still mostly unemployed (because they are completely unprepared for life in a 1st world country) after five years in Australia!

December 30, 2012 @ 3:23pm
by Phil

Maybe we could start by recognising that this is an international problem being made far worse by the economic policy of "globalisation" which places the workforces of countries that have a good human rights and democracy record in direct competition with workforces living under fascistic regimes, in conditions that sometimes reach the level of actual slavery. In this manner we are globally being forced into pre-democratic rich versus poor relationships.

This return to early nineteenth century slave state relationships cascades down a torrent of repression and violence that is making lives for billions of people unsustainable. Small wonder they seek to escape.

We need to learn to base our constitutions, our laws, and our ideals and aims and above all our trade regulation on human rights instead of self interest. We need to be prepared to place strong tariffs against the products of workforces that are improperly treated and underpaid. We need to demand the social improvements in other countries that will make becoming a refugee unneccessary - But so long as international corporations are permitted to export labour to nations with the lowest standards we arein fact as a source country for these corporations allowing them to make the situation worse. Many of these people are in fact escaping the political and economic environments international business through globalisation is creating

We need to wise up and recognise that protecting our workforce and protecting overseas living standards are one and the same

December 30, 2012 @ 4:25pm
by Erik Oberg

As a proud Australian I am appalled at the bias and one sided view taken by Ms Aubrey Belford. My experience - and I have travelled and worked in many Mid-Eastern and Islamic countries, it is the very nature of Islam that opposes democracy - in fact Shara law specifically states "these is but One Law and that is Shara"!

The people who are seeking to enter Australia are either:

1 Economic migrants fed up with the grinding poverty and corruption that they accept as inevitable in their homelands and want to escape to a western country eg Australia, why? Because it is in a free Australia they think they can live! However of the 200,000 refugees that Australia accepts each year most are still unemployed after 5 years because they are simply unsuitable for employment here.

2 True refugees, who again are escaping the oppressive theocracies and corruption that are all too prevalent in Muslim countries. These are persecuted because they are not 'true believers' and this is exactly why the west should be worried - it's Shara Law and our way or NOTHING!

So much for everyone else having to accept Islam as a peaceful and accommodating religion when in fact it is all too often vicious, bloody, and narrow minded to the extreme with anyone they disagree with! Frankly I think if one Muslim sect is not happy where they are go to another Muslim country where they will be accepted and take they problems there – not bleat that the evil Australians are somehow to blame for their situation!

Finally, and I address this directly to Ms Belford if Australia is so bad and evil – just how do you compare our stance with let’s say…um Japan? I so look forward to your response!!

December 31, 2012 @ 4:30pm
Show previous 18 comments
by Tanya Marwood

It's pretty shameful if our government, which is supposed to offer people that great Australian benefit - a 'fair go' - is actually blocking desperate refugees from escaping persecution. as long as these Hazara people are not a security threat to Australia and they settle in here and integrate into our society, they should be welcomed. Many of them will be intelligent, hardworking people (not 'peasants' Phil!) who are just like me and you. Show some compassion, Australia!

December 31, 2012 @ 5:41pm
by Donna

Has anyone looked at the role of the IOM? Isn't it very similar to what Australia is doing as alleged in this article? Why does the IOM escape scrutiny?

June 1, 2013 @ 8:50am
by Fatima

Hazara people have suffered from persecution and discrimination due to differences in their ethnicity and religion since the start of 19th century and onwards. Our people (Hazaras) were never violent against any ethnicity , We have never caused any kind of trouble in any country. we are the most peaceful people unlike Pushtum and Arabs that do all the suicidal attack and join terrorist group to fight against us and other non-Muslims which they call 'jihad'. For once Pakistan and Iran were the safest place for our people and to make it a permanent home for our children we fight for their country and keep their economic running without retirement benefits . Soon Pakistani and Iranian government forgot what we have done for them. We have no other choice than to leave this country...

November 1, 2013 @ 1:06am
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