Asylum Freeze Having Hardly Any Impact : Pakistan

Asylum freeze having hardly any impact: Pakistan

By South Asia correspondent Sally Sara
Updated Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:23am AEST

Audio: Australian policy not stopping asylum seeker flow says Pakistan (AM)

Pakistani immigration officials say the Federal Government's six-month freeze on processing new applications from Afghan asylum seekers has failed to stop the flow.

Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) says the measure has not delivered any change in the numbers of Afghans travelling through Pakistan and hoping to get to Australia

Pakistani officials now want Australian permission to interrogate asylum seekers on Christmas Island in an attempt to break people smuggling rings in Pakistan.

Thousands of Afghan refugees cross the border into Pakistan every day.

Some are escaping the war, others are searching for a better life, and many go back and forward.

The FIA's director of immigration, Mohammad Manzoor, says the Australian visa freeze has done nothing to reduce the number of Afghans crossing the border and trying to make their way to Australia.

“It has hardly any impact because the living conditions in Christmas Island are much better [than] in Afghanistan or in Quetta,” he said.

“So they would [prefer to] be detained in Christmas Island than to live in Afghanistan.”

The FIA says most of the Afghans passing through Pakistan are travelling on legal documents.

Mr Manzoor says the only way to break the people-smuggling syndicates is for Australian officials to let Pakistani investigators interrogate asylum seekers on Christmas Island.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers are working closely with their Pakistani counterparts, but will not say if they are prepared to take it a step further.

AFP commissioner Tony Negus is currently visiting India. He says no decision has been made.

“As far as access to people on Christmas Island, they're things that really need to be considered in the fullness of the investigation,” he said.

More than 83,000 Afghans have returned to their homeland from Pakistan so far this year.

But Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, says the process cannot be pushed too quickly.

“Repatriation has to be voluntary, it has to go in a gradual and orderly way and also at a pace at which Afghanistan has the capacity to absorb these returning refugees,” she said.

“In the last five years, Afghanistan has absorbed a fifth of its population again, just in returning refugees.”

Pakistan has 1.7 million registered Afghans living on its soil.

Many have been there for up to 20 years. Lal Wazir, 40, has been in Pakistan for 12 years.

He says there is a war in Afghanistan and he would only go back when there is peace.

Some Afghans are unsure whether to return home or risk everything and try to travel to Australia, but many are set to stay in Pakistan.