People smugglers ‘target Eritrean asylum seekers’

Many thousands of Eritreans have been fleeing their country in recent years.

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United Nations officials have said it’s a result of brutal government repression, including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, and torture.

 

Many of those fleeing are young people wanting to evade what seems like their country’s endless national military service.

 

The UN estimates several thousand people have been leaving each month, despite a shoot-to-kill order to Eritrea’s border forces.

A MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS

 

Most cross into the neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Sudan, where there have now been large refugee camps for years.

 

A 10-year-old boy in Sudan’s Kassala refugee camp told a UNHCR film crew he and eight of his school friends walked for three days to get out of Eritrea.

“There are lot of traffickers on the way to Sudan.  They ask for money.  We had to run away from those people for three days.”

“There are lot of traffickers on the way to Sudan.  They ask for money.  We had to run away from those people for three days.  After three days we came to Sudan,” said the boy, speaking via a translator.

 

Often with the aid of people smugglers, some have crossed Sudan, then Egypt, to the Mediterranean coast.

 

Some have managed to cross the Mediterranean to European countries, but thousands have drowned as boats sank on the way.

 

A few years ago, Eritreans had to pay a few hundred dollars for help from people-smugglers to try to get beyond Sudan.

 

But it’s now said to have evolved into a multi-million dollar cross-border business involving not just criminal gangs, but corrupt soldiers serving in the Eritrean and Sudanese armies.

 

And there can be another danger.

 

In some cases, Eritrean refugees have been kidnapped and sold to tribesmen from the Rashaida Bedouin people who operate in Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt.

 

Family members have been forced to listen to their cries on mobile phones, and are told to pay more than $US 30,000 to secure their release.

 

The UN says it has also heard reports of people being killed by traffickers so their organs can be sold on the black market.

 

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has promised action.

 

“We believe that there must be serious international cooperation in order to make sure, gathering information, articulating a response from the different police departments in order to make sure these global criminal organisations are attacked in an effective way, that there is an effective crackdown on smuggling and trafficking, and at the same time attacking the criminals [and ensuring] that the victims are protected,” says Mr Guterres.

THE JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA

SBS Radio’s Tigrinya program has been tracing Eritrean asylum-seekers who do manage to leave their country and then try to seek new lives further away, instead of waiting for years in refugee camps for resettlement offers.

 

Some have managed to cross by land across Sudan, then across Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, into Israel.

 

But those who have got as far as Israel have recently encountered a new problem.

 

The government of Israel has started to return them back to their home country.

 

Looking for new ways to secure their futures, some have paid people-smugglers to fly to Indonesia, with the intention of travelling to Australia by boat.

 

An Eritrean refugee activist in Israel has confirmed the trade exists.

 

“There are people who have already gone to Australia. For example, one year ago, people smugglers have been requesting people to pay $US2,000 to $US3,000 to go to Australia.  Up to 300 people were registered to go to Australia. But we informed the police and the process was halted for a while.  Last time there was one white Israeli who, with the collaboration of some Eritreans, was telling people that he was going to take Eritreans to Australia legally. Around 200 people each paid him $US2,000 to $US3,000 each.”

 

Other Eritrean refugees have not gone as far as Israel before they start a process to try to get to Australia.

 

One woman in Sudan says her brother managed to travel to Australia from Sudan, through Indonesia.

 

She says relatives in Europe paid thousands of dollars to people-smugglers, to enable him to make the trip.

 

Now he is in an Australian detention centre.

The payment was $US10,500 from here to Australia.  Then he arrived in Indonesia, upon his arrival they told him there was a boat ready to go to Australia.  And they push him to pay the money.

 “The agreement was from here (Sudan) to travel to Indonesia by plane and then to Australia by boat. The payment was $US10,500 from here to Australia.  Then he arrived in Indonesia, upon his arrival they told him there was a boat ready to go to Australia.  And they push him to pay the money.  Then my brothers who are in Europe paid the money,” she says.

 

Another Eritrean asylum-seeker, Muktar Hassen, says he also had to pay thousands of dollars to people-smugglers to make the trip from Sudan to Australia, via Indonesia.

 

He spent time in the Darwin detention centre before being transferred to Brisbane.

 

“I was the only Eritrean who came from Sudan to Indonesia by plane. A person whose name is Berhane organised and sent a visa. Totally, from Sudan to Jakarta and to Christmas Island we paid $US11, 000.  I spent four days in Jakarta and we travelled to Christmas Island by boat.  It was very hard.  We spent four days on the sea,” says Mr Hassen.              

A NEW DETERRENT 

Berhane is an Eritrean refugee who still lives in Sudan. He recently cancelled a plan to try go get to Australia after hearing of new asylum policies to resettle refugees in neighbouring countries.

 

“I emailed my friends in Australia to find out if it is true that people can enter to Australia through Indonesia. Then after a while, they told me that there is a new policy, even if I go to Australia the government will not resettle me in Australia. Then I asked the smugglers and they told me not to believe the new policy because the government always says the same thing but they will not do what they say.  But my family also did not support the plan and I cancelled it.”

 

Soccer club launches game for young fans

Tottenham Hotspur have become the first football club to develop a digital interactive game for children.

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Tottenham have a strong worldwide following and they are now looking to broaden that fan-base with the launch of a game called Tottenham Turfies.

The north London club say the free game is the world’s first “fully-interactive digital experience for children to be created and developed by a football club.”

Young fans under the age of 10 can create their own avatars and take part in games such as Topsy Turfie and Training Run with fellow supporters to earn virtual coins.

Those coins can then be exchanged for virtual and real-life prizes, such as tickets to open training sessions and stadium tours.

Spurs, who finished fifth in the Premier League last season, have sought to protect the young online players by not including a chat facility on the game. Players must also register their parents’ email address so they have a copy of their child’s log-on and password.

Tottenham head of marketing Emma Taylor said the club had made a “significant financial investment” to come up with the game, which went live at 10:30 local time this morning via the club’s website.

Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe, who has trialled the new game, said: “When I was a young boy, we had football stickers to swap in the playground, but I would have loved to have been able to play against my friends online and create my own ‘Turfie’.

“Tottenham Turfies takes things to a new level and it’s a great way for kids to have fun and get into football from an early age.”

Digital agency Hangar Seven, who have worked on projects for CBBC, Disney, Cartoon Network and Lego, developed the game.

Brazil protests grow

The protesters are angry about the high cost of hosting next year’s football World Cup, arguing the money should be spent on improving public services.

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Brianna Roberts reports.

 

What started out as a small protest over train and bus fares has quickly become a national movement in Brazil.

 

The demonstrations began in response to a modest increase to public transport fares, amounting to about 20 centavos, or 10 cents Australian.

 

Two major cities, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, have now reversed the price hikes, but protesters say the movement has grown well beyond its initial aim.

 

“Everybody is fed up with how the authorities are dealing with our interests and (those of) most of the population, not only the interests of businessmen and contractors or stuff like that.”

 

By early this week, the protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

 

The list of grievances has also grown longer, including funding for public services, perceived police violence and government corruption.

 

As the Confederations Cup – a practice run for next year’s World Cup – kicked off, protesters said the money spent on stadiums should go towards hospitals and schools.

 

One 80-year-old demonstrator, Jose De Freitas, says the nation’s discontent has been growing for a long time.

 

“We took a long time to wake up. What we have there is a fake democracy, it isn’t democracy. We fought against the political dictatorship, and now we are fighting against a monopolistic dictatorship.”

 

Tensions have escalated further after police used rubber bullets and tear gas last week to disperse crowds in the city of Fortaleza.

 

At least a hundred people were injured and 120 arrested, leading to complaints of brutality and an attempt to stop the media from covering the event.

 

Amid the protests, violence and looting has also broken out, with a group of rioters setting fire to a television van and pelting police with rocks.

 

At a media briefing held by football’s governing body, FIFA, Brazil’s deputy minister of communication, Cesar Alvarez, expressed dismay that some protests had become violent.

 

“We cannot let a small number of vandals disrupt the legitimate and democratic protests of a diverse country for people, this is certain. And this means, also, that we have to keep public order and safety for the public and private people and (have to) guarantee means of communication such as the right of circulation and so don’t want to see media buses attacked and, even less, public buses.”

 

A survey of demonstrators in Sao Paulo earlier this week highlighted the movement’s mixed motives.

 

Of those surveyed, one in four people said they were protesting against politicians, among other reasons.

 

More than half listed bus fares, 40 per cent named corruption, and more than 30 per cent spoke of police oppression.

 

The movement may not be united behind a single cause, but this protester says he believes the demonstrations are an expression of widespread discontent.

 

“It is a cry from society against the corruption that is messing up the country. I recognise that some of the ideas from parts of the protesters are erroneous. I don’t support 100 per cent of it, but I think that, in some way, society has become tired and is now speaking up.”

 

The protests have attracted international attention.

 

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Brazilian authorities to show restraint in handling the protesters.

Indian train kills 37 people, sparks riot

An express train has ploughed into a crowd of Hindu pilgrims in eastern India, killing 37 and triggering a riot that’s left one of the drivers dead and carriages ablaze.

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The pilgrims were crossing the tracks at a station in the state of Bihar when the high-speed passenger train struck them, a senior police officer said.

“The death toll is now 37,” SK Bharadwaj, an additional director general of police, said.

Nine women and four children are among the dead.

“Dozens of people have been injured. We do not have exact figures of those injured because they were taken away to various hospitals,” he said.

Angry crowds went on the rampage, attacking the Rajya Rani Express which stopped after the accident. They attacked its drivers, killing one and seriously injuring another.

“One of the drivers of the train who was beaten up by the agitators has died. The other driver is struggling for his life in the hospital,” Bharadwaj said.

The crowd also set carriages on fire and ransacked the station in the small town of Dhamara Ghat, 248km from the state capital Patna.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “expressed deep sorrow and shock at the loss of lives” and appealed for calm.

Suman Kumar Jha, a college student on board the express when it rammed into the pilgrims, said he was “numbed” to see “so much blood all around”.

Bodies were placed in a line alongside the tracks, their faces covered by articles of clothing, as passengers gathered nearby.

Fire and smoke was also seen on TV billowing from carriages and windows smashed.

There are hundreds of accidents on the railways annually.

Besieged Bombers don’t faze AFL Eagles

The stage is perfectly set for a Bombers backlash, but West Coast coach John Worsfold says his team won’t be affected by the crisis gripping Essendon any more than Australia’s Ashes woes.

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The Eagles were on the receiving end of a galvanised Bombers outfit when the two teams last met in round 14.

Essendon entered that match under extreme scrutiny following the stunning admission from skipper Jobe Watson that he believed he had taken the banned substance AOD-9604.

The outside scrutiny seemed to unite Essendon’s players, and Watson was particularly inspirational with 29 possessions and two goals as the Bombers came from behind in the dying minutes to snatch a seven-point win.

The build-up to Sunday’s re-match at Etihad Stadium is eerily similar, but this time it’s coach James Hird under the pump.

Essendon’s golden boy is under immense pressure to step down following explosive allegations from the club’s former high performance manager Dean Robinson that Hird was the driving force behind the suspect supplements program.

The off-field drama seems to have finally caught up with the Bombers, who have suffered big losses to Hawthorn and Collingwood over the past fortnight.

But with the pressure at its most intense, Essendon players are desperate to bounce back to winning form in a show of faith to Hird.

West Coast need to win Sunday’s encounter in order to keep their slim finals hopes alive, and Worsfold says his team can’t afford to worry about whether Essendon will be more fired up than usual.

“Our preparation is around just going out and playing good footy. Nothing should change our attitude to going out there to play,” Worsfold said on Wednesday.

“Just because England retained the Ashes, it’s not going to put us off. We’re going to stay focused.”

West Coast could welcome back a host of stars this week, with Matt Priddis (quad), Matt Rosa (back), Daniel Kerr (knee), Mark LeCras (foot) and Chris Masten (ankle) all a chance to return.

All-Australian ruckman Nic Naitanui will miss at least another week as he builds up more match fitness, while Luke Shuey (hamstring) isn’t available just yet.