From Afghanistan to the Outback: refugees ditch Australia’s overcrowded cities

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Ali is a 44-year-old Hazara refugee in Griffith. (AFP)
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The “Afghan Friendship Restaurant” in Griffith is said to be a tribute to the warm welcome Hazara refugee Ali received after moving to the town five years ago. (AFP)
Updated 18 November 2018
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From Afghanistan to the Outback: refugees ditch Australia’s overcrowded cities

  • The 44-year-old father of three is among a growing number of refugees and migrants to Australia who have opted to live in the bush rather than the big cities
  • Australia takes in around 14,000 refugees annually, with one-off exceptions to allow additional asylum-seekers

GRIFFITH, Australia: A Hazara refugee who now calls the Australian outback home, Ali named his new venture the “Afghan Friendship Restaurant,” a tribute to the warm welcome he says he received after moving to the town of Griffith five years ago.
The 44-year-old father of three is among a growing number of refugees and migrants to Australia who have opted to live in the bush rather than among the bright lights, hustle-bustle and astronomical prices of Sydney or Melbourne.
The word “friendship” hovers over Ali’s head in bright red lettering while he cooks lamb skewers, his face a picture of concentration as the rich wafts of fragrant smoke lure in hungry customers.
It is the first-ever Afghan eatery in Griffith — a six-hour drive west of Sydney — and a far cry from the pie and chips staples of the Australian bush.
“I suggest to all of my friends, especially Afghan people, to come to Griffith, because here’s very friendly,” Ali, who asked that his surname not be used to protect family still in Afghanistan, tells AFP during a break from cooking.
“Also we can find a job as well, because the population is not too much.”
A nation of immigrants, nearly half of Australia’s 25-million-strong population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born abroad.
The country takes in around 14,000 refugees annually, with one-off exceptions to allow additional asylum-seekers, such as a recent scheme for 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis.
But harsh anti-asylum policies against boat arrivals and high-profile incidents of racism have given the country a reputation as inhospitable to non-white immigrants.
There’s been a spike in anti-immigration sentiment, according to the Lowy Institute think tank, despite the overall intake of migrants — capped annually at 190,000 — remaining stable.
Lowy’s annual poll found that for the first time this year, more than half the Australians surveyed said the number of migrants was “too high” — up from 40 percent in 2017.
The poll’s authors said the shifting attitudes could reflect a lurch to the right, particularly as conservative politicians call for intake cuts amid urban pressures.
Rapid demographic changes in Australian cities over the past decade have caused disquiet as residents grapple with congestion and high house prices.
Yet at the same time many regional towns are “crying out for more people,” according to population and cities minister Alan Tudge.
His government is proposing that new arrivals live in smaller towns for a few years, in the hope they would make it their home.
Critics say the policy is not enforceable, and add that migrants would struggle to integrate into rural populations amid language and cultural differences.
But that is not what Jock Collins at the University of Technology Sydney, who is currently surveying 250 recently arrived families from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, has found.
Collins says many migrants have positive feedback to share after being settled in smaller towns.
In addition to job opportunities and a supportive environment — “where the town goes out of its way to welcome refugees” — the presence of other migrant communities can ease the transition, Collins says.
“A lot of regional and rural towns are losing populations and in particular, the young people are leaving... so immigration can help fill that gap.”
Some immigrants also find it difficult to adjust to the busy rhythms of city life, making smaller towns an easier fit.
Incentives like extended family visas — which the conservative government has been cutting back on in favor of younger working-age migrants — could also attract and keep refugees in the bush.
One success story is Mingoola, a small rural township in New South Wales, on the border with Queensland, that was slowly dying as its population aged.
Desperate for an injection of new blood, the town finally found a match with refugees from rural east Africa who were struggling in Sydney.
Similar praise has been heaped on Nhill, a town four hours’ drive from Melbourne that’s boomed since local poultry firm Luv-a-Duck found a Karen community, a minority group persecuted in Myanmar, willing to move there.
Eight years on, business is booming and the Karen now make up 10 percent of Nhill’s 2,000-strong population.
“From a position of decline, these towns are now thriving,” says Jack Archer of the Regional Australia Institute, which is pushing for a national strategy instead of isolated efforts to match needy towns with job-seeking migrants.
Back in Griffith, refugee entrepreneurs are boosting local jobs. Ali’s restaurant employs another refugee and a migrant from Malaysia, while his wife also helps with the cooking.
In more than one way, Ali is altering visitor flows between cities and rural towns.
One couple have traveled from Sydney three times to eat at the restaurant.
It’s “for the soup,” he says, “they like my soup and because of that they come here.”


Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

Updated 19 July 2019
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Pakistan ex-PM in custody of anti-graft body amid Qatar LNG case

  • Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds
  • Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was remanded in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for 13 days, a day after he was arrested in a case involving a multibillion-rupee liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract to Qatar.
Abbasi, who is also the vice president of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) party, was presented before Judge Bashir Ahmed of an accountability court on Friday morning. The case has been adjourned until Aug. 1.
Speaking to journalists before his appearance at the court, Abbasi called his arrest “an attack on democracy.”
Last year, the NAB ordered an inquiry into Abbasi over the alleged misappropriation of funds in the import of LNG that the agency says caused a loss of about $2 billion to the national exchequer. He is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal to a “favored” company. Abbasi rejects the allegations.
PML-N Sen. Mushahid Ullah Khan said Pakistan was facing “the worst energy crisis of its kind” when his party came to power after the 2013 general election, and the LNG deal was quickly finalized with Qatar to overcome it.
“The industry was shutting down with thousands of people getting unemployed, but this LNG supply helped us reverse the tide,” he told Arab News.
Khan said Pakistan’s LNG contract with Qatar was “the cheapest possible deal” the country could have gotten, and rubbished allegations of corruption and kickbacks.
“If there is something wrong in the contract, why is this government not reviewing it?” Khan asked.
Pakistan is currently receiving a supply of 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. It is a government-to-government agreement and the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.
“It is the worst example of political victimization by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government,” PML-N Chairman Raja Zafrul Haq said on Friday after the accountability court remanded Abbasi in NAB custody. “Shahid Khaqan served the nation with dignity and did not commit any wrongdoings,” Haq added.
Abbasi was arrested on his way to Lahore to address a news conference along with PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday.
He served as federal minister for petroleum in the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he finalized an LNG import deal with Qatar. Abbasi then served for less than a year as prime minister following the resignation of Sharif in 2017.
On Thursday, Pakistan opened technical bids of four international companies for the supply of 400 million cubic feet per day of LNG for a period of 10 years to fulfil the country’s rising energy requirements.
Officials told Arab News that a Qatari delegation, led by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in June, resented that Islamabad had ignored its lowest offer of 11.05 percent of Brent for the fresh deal, and instead floated tenders seeking provision of LNG for 10 years from international companies.
The secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Energy said: “Yes, this is true. Qatar expressed its annoyance, but we are following our rules. Qatar has not submitted its bid to participate in the process.”
Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among what he describes as a venal political elite, and views the probes into veteran politicians — including Sharif and former President Asif Ali Zardari — as long overdue.
The NAB’s campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate in Pakistan, and its focus on the new government’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.
Commenting on Abbasi’s case, former NAB prosecutor Munir Sadiq said the anti-corruption watchdog would file a reference against Abbasi in an accountability court for prosecution, but only if it found irrefutable evidence against him.
“This case is now at the evidence-collection stage, and the NAB will file a reference in the court if it finds irrefutable corruption evidence against Abbasi during the investigation,” Sadiq said.
He added that any inquiry against Abbasi would be shelved after 90 days if corroborating evidence of corruption was not found.
“If a weak case will be filed against the accused, then he will surely receive support from the court,” Sadiq said.