News / Asia

    Refugees Recount Ordeal as Australia Asylum Debate Rages

    Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran cry as Indonesian officers force them to leave the Australian vessel Hermia docked at Indah Kiat port in Merak, Indonesia's Banten province, April 9, 2012. Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran cry as Indonesian officers force them to leave the Australian vessel Hermia docked at Indah Kiat port in Merak, Indonesia's Banten province, April 9, 2012.
    x
    Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran cry as Indonesian officers force them to leave the Australian vessel Hermia docked at Indah Kiat port in Merak, Indonesia's Banten province, April 9, 2012.
    Asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran cry as Indonesian officers force them to leave the Australian vessel Hermia docked at Indah Kiat port in Merak, Indonesia's Banten province, April 9, 2012.
    Phil Mercer
    SYDNEY – Canberra and Jakarta have agreed to do more to combat "smuggling gangs" that have ferried thousands of asylum seekers into Australian waters so far this year. Human rights groups say the trade in people is lucrative and is expanding. Despite the deaths of dozens of unauthorized arrivals in recent weeks, the boats continue to set sail.

    More than 4,000 asylum seekers have been intercepted in Australia's northern waters so far this year. The numbers are modest by international standards, but enough to spark a bitter political debate.

    Both the Labor government and its conservative opponents want to send asylum seekers to neighboring countries to have their claims for refugee status processed.  It is argued that those who take the dangerous gamble trying to reach Australia by boat would think again if they knew they could be sent for processing in another country.

    While the political impasse continues, more boats have arrived.  Refugee advocate Marion Le says they are bringing asylum seekers from various countries.

    "We seem at the moment to be having quite a number that are coming through from Sri Lanka, but some people now apparently in the last couple of weeks have got on boats in India and come through," said Le.  "But the majority of the boats over the last few years have been coming from Indonesia, and they have been Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers with a few other people, but that is the majority of those ones coming through Indonesia."

    Le says that many of the clandestine trafficking gangs are hard to identify because they are shadowy groups that pay young Indonesians to transport asylum seekers into Australian waters.

    "As for the people smuggling, usually the people behind the boats are pretty well hidden," said Le.  "They buy the boats [and] increasingly they are putting young boys from Indonesia in to crew those vessels."

    Sayad Kasim, a ‪Rohingya Muslim, fled Burma with his family. After seeking shelter in neighboring Thailand, he traveled to Malaysia and on to Indonesia.

    In January 2010, he paid traffickers $3,000 for a place on a small boat that was intercepted by the Australian navy.   He says everyone onboard was praying and thought they would die in the rough seas. He was eventually rescued and detained for six months on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, before being granted a refugee visa.

    Kasim is now fighting to arrange safe passage for his wife and four children, who remain in Malaysia.

    "I love my children," said Kasim.  "I am looking for Australia [to provide a] better life to them, not for me."

    Ali, 26, from Iraqi, also traveled by boat that left Indonesia's southern coast in December 2009. He, too, was intercepted by the Australian navy.

    "It was a very hard experience, [it] just was a little boat and about 58 or 68 persons on that boat," said Ali.  "It just was like a point in the ocean."

    The computer programmer now lives in Brisbane where he is forging a new life away from the violence and privations of Iraq.

    "The reason that we come to Australia was that we put our lives in this little boat, and risking our lives because we had the reason," added Ali.  "If we had a good life, if we had, like, an opportunity to survive, you know, and be alive in our country we would not go and seek asylum in other countries. We came here to stay alive."

    Australia has resettled about 750,000 refugees since 1900, including Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, Vietnamese escaping war in the 1970s and, more recently, persecuted minorities from Sudan and Afghanistan.

    Canberra grants refugee protection visas to about 13,000 people each year under various international agreements.

    You May Like

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora