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15 October 2012
The re-opening of processing centres on Nauru and Manus, Papua New Guinea, by the Australian government will not deter people of the Hazara ethnic grouping in Afghanistan from attempting to reach Australia, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Last weekend (12th-14th October 2012), six boats containing 525 people were picked up by the Australian coastguard and taken to Christmas Island, a remote Australian-owned Island, 2,700 km north-west of Perth, to the detention camp there. The boats contained people of several nationalities including Iranians and Afghans. There are now 1,946 refugees living on the island.
Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, has said that she expects the numbers of people making the dangerous crossing from Indonesia by boat to drop as the news that the processing centres have opened filters through. She told journalists in September 'Even if you are a genuine refugee, you would not get a resettlement opportunity earlier than you would have got it if you hadn't moved by boat. The aim is so people don't get an advantage if they…risk their lives at sea.'
However, the ABC has conducted an investigation in Afghanistan and has found that Hazaras, who are a persecuted minority, are undeterred by the re-opening of the centres. They are so dissatisfied with their lot in Afghanistan, that even the prospect of internment on Nauru is preferable. One Hazara woman told ABC reporter Michael Edwards 'Yeah, we know the rules become tough for refugees. We want to go to Australia because our life is in danger. After 2014, we can't live. Maybe Taliban come back.'
Hazaras, particularly the women, fear that, if the Taliban return in 2014 when international forces leave, their lives will become even worse. They are therefore willing to pay AUS$10,000-20,000 to people-smugglers to make the trip and the re-opening of the camps will not change that.
Hazaras are also motivated by reports of a better life from their relatives and friends who have reached Australia and been granted asylum. One Hazara woman told Edwards, 'We have heard, [from] those who are there, they are happy from their life. That's why we prefer to go to Australia.' A Hazara man said 'Our people are very happy in Australia. They [Australians] accept us very easily. There are more work opportunities.'
On 1st October 2012, The Australian newspaper reported that, since the reopening of the camps, the numbers of people attempting the voyage from Pakistan had fallen but that the numbers coming from Iran were unaffected. Since the camp on Nauru re-opened, around thirty Sri Lankans have opted to return to Sri Lanka.
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