Asylum-seekers deported from Australia to Pakistan
CANBERRA: Australia deported its highest-profile family of asylum seekers to Pakistan in the pre-dawn hours on Thursday, ending a long battle for sanctuary that has turned the Bakhtiari family into a symbol of Canberra’s stern policy on refugees.
The middle-of-the-night deportation of Ali and Roqia Bakhtiari and their six children brought an end to a five-year battle to stay in Australia during which they launched some 20 unsuccessful legal challenges to gain asylum.
The family arrived in Australia in 1999 and became a symbol of the fight against the conservative government’s policy of indefinite, mandatory detention for all unwanted asylum-seekers — a stance widely criticised by civil libertarians at home and abroad.. The Bakhtiaris insisted they were from Afghanistan’s ethnic Hazara community, a Shiite minority oppressed by the former Taliban regime.
But the government said they were from Pakistan and attempts by officials and journalists to locate their claimed home community in Afghanistan failed. The sleeping Bakhtiaris were woken at 1:00am on Thursday by immigration officers and within two hours were aboard a charter flight headed for Pakistan, officials said. The clandestine operation infuriated refugee advocates and other opponents of the government’s asylum policy. “If the government’s plans for the family were all above board, then it would not have secreted them out of the country under cover of darkness hoping we would all be distracted by the tragic events in Southeast Asia or the holiday season,” said Kate Reynolds, an opposition refugee spokeswoman.
But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone rejected the criticism. “The timing of the family’s departure was determined by the availability of the charter aircraft and transfer arrangements en route,” Vanstone said. “At the end, the conclusive finding was that the family was not owed protection and, consequently, the removal process is now being followed.”
Vanstone suggested the family understood and accepted that their legal appeals had run their full course. “I think the family finally accepted that they had had, and used, every opportunity in Australia for their case to be heard and it had come to an end,” she said. “I think when any anguish from either side of a discussion, argument, battle, call it whatever you want comes to an end, there has to be a certain sense of relief, and I hope the Bakhtiari family are feeling that.” The Bakhtiaris became a cause celebre in 2002 when their two eldest sons, Alamdar and Muntazar, escaped from a desert detention centre at Woomera in South Australia and sought refuge in the British consulate in Melbourne. afp