PETER ALFORD, JAKARTA CORRESPONDENT From: The Australian
ROHALLAH Gharibyar is his family’s only hope of escaping perpetual menace and frequent violence in Pakistan; better, he says, to drown trying to reach Australia than go back or wait indefinitely in Indonesia.
Now that the threat of Malaysian deportation is removed, Rohallah and his Hazara friends are looking for boats. One of their bunch flew on Saturday to Makassar, Sulawesi, to join one.
“We don’t have any alternative, we are forced to go, our families are in danger,” he said. “They want us to go and I am willing.”
It cost Rohallah’s family $US8000 ($7563) to get him this far from Quetta, via Thailand and Malaysia. Half of the money was inherited on his father’s death, the rest borrowed from relatives.
Aman Karimi sold his brother’s car, but his family borrowed most of the $US7000 to get him to Indonesia; Zakir Hussain Faiyazi’s fare came from the sale of the family home in southern Afghanistan, where he lost a brother in a rocket attack about eight years ago.
Their families will have to raise another $3000 to $4500 to get them on to a boat to Australia and there is no question they will try.
“We have heard the Malaysian thing is no more and that’s why I am looking for a boat,” said Zakir, who came to Indonesia four months ago.
“My destination is Australia; I don’t care about drowning.”
Aman did not fear sailing to Australia, having experienced near-death on the small overloaded boat that almost sank in a storm during his transit from Malaysia to Sumatra.
“I have seen the worst thing in my life. The next boat will be bigger, so I don’t care,” he said.
The three young men or youths (they won’t give their ages) claim they are driven to this dangerous passage by an overwhelming sense of family obligation. Life is more free of fear in Puncak, south of Jakarta, than in Pakistan or when they were passing through Malaysia, where canings and summary jailing is common.
But their families are waiting behind with only the hope that the adventurous sons and brothers will reach Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef, get an Australian visa and eventually get them out of the hellhole that is Quetta today for Hazaras.
That is why Rohallah hesitated after arriving in Puncak 10 weeks ago and learned from earlier arrivals about the Gillard government’s Malaysia Solution.
His family could not afford for him to be stuck at the back of a Malaysian refugee queue for four or five years if he was deported back there and the relatives would want their loans back.
A decade ago, Quetta was a sort of haven for Farsi-speaking ethnic Hazaras, under constant attack in their Afghan homelands from Taliban militias. About 500,000 of them took refuge in the city and surrounding districts.
But these days, Shia Hazaras are preyed upon by Pakistani Sunni extremists. Eleven died in a suicide bombing of a crowded mosque last week during Eid-ul-Fitr prayers.
With the Pakistani security forces preoccupied by the spreading East Balochistan insurgency and the city now virtually sealed to outsiders, attacks on Hazaras are routine and unpunished.
“Now Quetta is worse than Afghanistan,” said Rohallah, who claims he saw several friends die during a football game earlier this year when four men stepped out of a car and shot up the pitch.
“In Afghanistan, the Taliban kill everyone who disobeys their rules but in Quetta they just kill any Hazara they can find.”
None of the three has the funds to get on another boat – and the smugglers are playing cagey, knowing they have a build-up of clients desperate to take advantage of the Australian government’s confusion over offshore processing. It’s getting so that asylum-seekers in Puncak have to pay even to get the smugglers’ current mobile numbers.
When they do succeed, families back in Quetta will be asked to borrow again for the fare, depositing funds with hawala money brokers, who release them to the smugglers when Australian arrival is confirmed.
If people thought they could get Australian visas in Indonesia, said Rohallah, they would wait their turn: “We would like to go there by right. We don’t want to cause trouble for the Australian government.”
But the best anybody knows in Puncak is that Australia has not issued a visa through the Jakarta embassy in six months and even interviews for UN High Commissioner for Refugees registration involve a months-long wait. Lurking behind that is the fear widespread among asylum-seekers that Australia will completely close the refugee visa channel to them.
“It is a matter of time,” said Aman.