Refugee leaky boat billboard anger

Human rights and refugee advocates have slammed as callous billboards in the Pakistan city of Quetta warning people not to come to Australia by leaky boat.

One of the billboards is seen clearly in the background of pictures shot in the aftermath of a September 3 attack on a Shia Muslim rally that killed 42 people and injured another 80.

Jack Smit, from the WA group Project Safecom, said Hazaras who had escaped persecution in Afghanistan by fleeing to Pakistan were being targeted.

“Recent and reported examples provide evidence of a sharp increase in targeted killings of Hazara in Quetta,” Mr Smit said.

He said photos of a recent incident in Quetta showed people cleaning up the bodies of others killed in a suicide bomb with an Australian Government billboard in the background warning people not to come to Australia in “the illegal way”.

He said getting to Australia legally was almost impossible.

“Australia’s callousness is made larger when you realise that you won’t get anywhere with the Australian Embassy in Pakistan or Afghanistan, that the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR is under resourced, overworked and often inadequate, if not inappropriate,” Mr Smit said.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said the poster was part of a campaign that ended in mid 2010 but many of the billboards had remained in place.

“On behalf of the Australian government, Customs and Border Protection leads and refines the implementation of counter people smuggling communications campaigns in source and transit countries.

“In 2010-2011, we implemented campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia to discourage and deter potential irregular immigrants and crew from becoming involved in people smuggling activities,” the spokesman said.

“Customs and Border Protection conducted this advertising campaign immediately after an April 2010 policy announcement by the Australian government regarding the temporary suspension of the processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum claims.

“The aim of the campaign, which lasted for three months, was to ensure that the government’s policy announcement reached source communities. Although the campaign ceased in mid-2010 some of the campaign posters are still in place.

“To deter and dissuade potential irregular immigrant communities in source and transit countries from embarking on a maritime voyage to Australia, this banner advertising also conveyed messages about the dangers and risks of such a voyage.”