Their greatest risk remains their greatest hope

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Michael Bachelard, West Java

Hazaras in West Java. Photo: Michael Bachelard

AS AUSTRALIANS were digesting their country’s latest policy twist on Monday night, a group of Afghan asylum seekers clustered anxiously around their computer in West Java, devouring the news.
The tough new policy is designed to deter men such as these ethnic Hazaras from trying to reach Australia. But they insisted to The Age yesterday that they were still determined to board a boat and make the hazardous trip.
”When you think that you may die in Afghanistan, there are two ways,” refugee Mohamad Khani said. ”You stay there and die [or] you can go to find a safe place to have a better future … We are going [to Australia]. We don’t have another choice.”

Eighty men live cheek by jowl in this compound of eight rooms in the picturesque town of Cisarua. They are part of a constantly shifting population of Hazara refugees waiting for the call from a people smuggler to say their boat is ready.

They are avid consumers of Australian news because Australia is their greatest risk and their greatest hope. But these men were clear: they had come too far on their journey to Australia to back out now, however harsh the government’s policy.

In his 22 years, Mr Khani has felt almost constantly under threat. In Afghanistan, his father was kidnapped by the Taliban for lacking a beard. He escaped and the family fled to Pakistan.

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