Refugee boy's plea: help me, Australia
June 24 2013
Nine months after young refugee boy Omid Jafary was plucked from the ocean, stunned into silence by watching his father, uncle and cousin drown, he is still living in Indonesia with no idea what his future holds.
Like thousands of other children waiting indefinitely for resettlement to Australia, this heartbroken child has been shuttled from one temporary home to another.
But as both Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard, in their different ways, try to push the burden of growing refugee numbers back towards Indonesia, Human Rights Watch has produced a scathing report [LINK http://hrw.org/node/116313/ ] about child refugees trapped there, a story of arbitrary detention, violence, abuse and neglect.
"Many children remain in detention for years, facing an array of abuses including physical violence from immigration officials, bribery and confiscation of property, and lack of basic necessities," the report finds.
Those outside the detention system are denied education, have no legal protection or material help and sometimes end up on the streets.
Omid's name in Farsi language means "hope". But there is precious little of it for this 12-year-old Afghan Hazara boy, who still suffers from his experience as one of just 55 survivors of a boat which sank of the coast of Indonesia last August. More than 100 drowned around him during three days on the ocean.
"My feelings, my senses, everything was under the sea," he told Fairfax Media. "That accident is always with me. In dreams, in waking. Only when I play football the stress leaves me for a while."
His one desire is to get to Australia, then try to bring his mother and siblings to join him. But he has heard nothing for months about his claim. And he's in a very long queue.
About 2000 unaccompanied children are officially recorded to be in Indonesia, with 1178 arriving last year. But the real numbers are likely to be much higher. About 3 per cent are under 14. Australia's intake of all asylum seekers in Indonesia in the next financial year will be 600 though even this is not assured under an Abbott-led government.
Many children live in one of Indonesia's squalid and overcrowded detention centres, in which people without visas can legally be detained for up to 10 years without judicial review.
"Both adults and children described guards kicking, punching, and slapping them or other detainees. Some reported that guards tied up or gagged detainees, beat them with sticks, burned them with cigarettes, and administered electric shocks," the Human Rights Watch report says.
"One child with whom we spoke said there was one toilet for 37 people when he was detained at Pontianak [immigration detention centre] for seven-and-a-half months."
The food is often dirty and lacks the nutrition that young children need; rooms flood in the wet season, and sometimes with sewage and some were not allowed outdoors for weeks or months.
In recent years, Australia has tried to improve conditions in immigration detention in Indonesia by putting almost $20 million into refurbishing three centres and training staff. But Human Rights Watch says conditions remain awful, and Australia is implicated because of its "strategy of immigration enforcement first, refugee protection second".
Children outside detention in Indonesia are given no guardian or legal help to find services or make decisions. It's not even clear in Indonesian law which department is responsible for them.
"Of those not detained, only a handful of children have shelter, and others are left to fend for themselves," the report says.
Mr Abbott has promised to push back asylum seeker vessels to Indonesian shores, and when Ms Gillard meets Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono next week, she will likely reiterate her government's desire for Indonesia to beef up efforts to stop people leaving by boat.
Omid is one of that lucky few. Non-government organisation Church World Service has placed him with an Iranian foster family in a house in Cisarua, West Java. But his life is still highly contingent. An earlier, Afghan, foster family left him behind when they were resettled in New Zealand.
"When they left me I cried," Omid says, "because I felt alone all over again, and again this had happened to me".
He then spent some months in a shelter where, at 11, he was the youngest, and the others "didn't help me or listen to me." It was a bleak time.
He is happy with his current family but desperately misses his mother.
"I am so far from my mother, and I just want to see her again in Australia. This is my hope."
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