This morning The Australian reports that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has completed its assessment of the 78 asylum-seekers on the Oceanic Viking and designated all of them as genuine refugees.

This year the AFP and Indonesian police have stopped, arrested and detained 1998 people who were attempting to come to Australia by boat. Most of these men, women, children and unaccompanied children are now in prisons and detention centres across the Indonesian archipelago in conditions ranging from acceptable to appalling.

The UNHCR has assessed 640 of the cases in Indonesia and found them to be refugees requiring protection. They are going slow on the others because they are unable to get countries, including Australia, to resettle the refugees. This leaves more than 2000 people effectively warehoused in Indonesia.

They are fed and watered and housed like cattle, in the words of one 14-year-old Iraqi girl. Australia pays IOM to do this. The government has so far revealed no policy on what is to happen to the people piling up in Indonesia.

Last year Australia settled 35 people from Indonesia. At this rate there is a 40-year queue for refugees hoping to settle in Australia.

We the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre have found 70 children without parents or relatives locked up in Indonesia prisons. There are others with whom we have not established contact. They are mainly Hazara kids who have been smuggled out to save their lives.

One 17-year-old boy was sent after his father was “slaughtered” by the Taliban for refusing to hand over his 15-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old Taliban leader. His five brothers are missing, his mother and two sisters travelled by donkey and on foot across the mountains to Quetta after the attack.

The village elders advised them to run and now the family is separated with the young boy locked up in an Indonesian prison. He has a sister living in Australia who would sponsor him but her application, like hundreds of others from family members, sits in the bottom draw of the immigration department.

Another 14-year-old had his entire family killed by the Taliban because they were Christians. Quetta, the traditional bolthole for Hazaras, is no longer safe. Afghans who have returned after visiting their families tell us that they saw Hazaras gunned down in the street.

This is contributing to the outflow of Hazaras to Indonesia.

This footage filmed on a mobile phone in the Makassar rudenim (detention centre) two weeks ago illustrates the difficulties faced by refugees. The man on the floor with no pants on has been returned to the detention centre and beaten. He escaped with four others after paying a bribe to the deputy director of the rudenim which allowed him to do so. They gave the escapees an hours grace and then went out after them:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPe6xixok8A[/youtube]

The four men were caught, beaten and bashed. The reason that this man has no pants is because the Indonesian guards know that the only place left for the detainees to hide what little money they have is in their underwear. As a consequence the guards pull their trousers and underpants off searching for money.

These poor quality photos show swelling, cuts and bruises left by the beatings. In other centres we have reports that after people escape the remaining detainees are bashed as a warning for them not to make a similar attempt:

beating1

beating2

beating3

Conditions in these many prisons and detention centres vary enormously from sympathetic to brutal. Corruption is rife as poorly paid guards see the detainees as an income source until they are run out of what little money they had and are then trapped. IOM are required to visit the detainees and then notify UNHCR staff.  Most recent escapes have occurred following failure of UNHCR staff to return as promised.

After registration by UNHCR, they promise to return to interview detainees. This may take months, as will the decision and letter assessing them as refugees in need of protection. In the past people would then be released to hostels, however we understand Indonesia has now been pressured to keep them locked up to stop possible boat expeditions.

In the community they have no right to work or school for the children or movement but they are fed and watered while they wait.

Some have now been living in this warehoused state for nine years and still counting.

Peter Fray

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