Monday, 19 December 2011

Orphan face of failed asylum policy

Tragic face ... Atena Hardani / Pic: Lukman S Bintoro Source: The Daily Telegraph

WEARING a Prigi Beach souvenir T-shirt and shorts after her clothes were torn from her, Atena Hadarni is the orphaned face of everything wrong with our asylum policy.
A government policy, according to frustrated asylum-seekers in Indonesia yesterday, that says its borders are closed to migrants coming through official channels, but is an "open door" to anyone who can make it by boat.Frightened and bewildered, the tiny 10-year-old Shia Muslim from Iran was sold on the dream of coming to Australia where she would live in Sydney, play sport and "express her intelligence" in a society free of persecution.

Instead that dream is in tatters, lying at the bottom of the notorious South Java Sea along with the boat her family tried to hitch their futures to in the perilous voyage to Christmas Island.
Both Atena's parents and her younger sister, 8, are feared drowned.
All alone, she is one of only three children and two females among the 34 rescued asylum seekers and is being cared for by men she only met boarding a bus in the cover of darkness in Jakarta.
Through an interpreter she said she has no other family, either back home in Iran or in Australia - where the only contact she has with her former life is the first name of a Sydney man she hasn't met.
While she knows little about him she prays "Mustafa" will be able to contact her, help her.
With bruises the length of her thighs Atena's journey is like so many here at Blitar. She left her village of Ahwaz three weeks ago with her family, who boarded a flight in the capital Tehran to Dubai.
They caught another flight to Jakarta the following day.
In Jakarta she stayed with her family in a motel while her father contacted agents operating for people smugglers who organised accommodation about two-hour's drive away in the hills of Puncak, near the city of Bogor.
There they blended in with locals used to seeing Arabian faces and out of sight from Indonesian authorities.
They waited more than two weeks before "the call" and were shepherded on a minibus back to Jakarta and on to one of four coaches that drove through the jungle at night to an unknown port on Java's south coast.
Through an interpreter she said her father knew "completely" about Julia Gillard and was told by her parents they would live in Sydney, play sport, "express her intelligence" and they would have a "bright" future.
Others, like many Pakistanis and Afghanis, had flown directly to Kuala Lumpur after selling their family's land and all their possessions to pay the $4,000 to $6000 smugglers fee.
Some had waited months, working illegally in kitchens to save for when the smugglers inevitably ask for more money.
Atena must now cope with the consequences alone.

• Source: The Daily Telegraph ,December 20, 2011 12:00AM


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