Amnesty slams advice on Afghanistan
October 7, 2010
A leading human rights group has slammed the advice being used by Labor to reject Afghan asylum seekers, warning security in Afghanistan is now at its worst in a decade.
The warning extends to regions which are the chief sources of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, including the province of Oruzgan where Australian soldiers are based.
The federal government last week lifted a six-month freeze on the processing of Afghan asylum seeker applications, citing a better understanding of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
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Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was now likely more Afghans would have their claims for asylum rejected and eventually be returned home.
The proportion of Afghans who are having their claims for refugee status accepted has already fallen from 95 per cent at the start of the year to about 30 per cent.
But Halima Kazem, a researcher with Amnesty International with almost 10 years experience in Afghanistan, said nothing had changed to justify rejecting more Afghan asylum seekers, including ethnic Hazaras.
Hazaras make up the vast majority of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Australia but, being Shia, are persecuted by the Sunni Taliban.
“The situation is worse than it has been for the last nine years,” Ms Kazem said.
“(The Taliban is) now present in almost every province in Afghanistan with the exception of just a few.”
The government has previously cited improved conditions for ethnic Hazaras as justification for rejecting more Afghan asylum claims.
A leaked cable from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) also disputes the claims of Hazaras, saying the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was “not convinced that the majority of Hazara protection-seekers abroad were genuine”.
Ms Kazem said it was simply not the case that the situation for Hazaras had improved, including in Oruzgan.
“They are generally from Ghazni or they're from Oruzgan province,” Ms Kazem said of the Afghan asylum seekers in detention in Australia.
“The way that it's probably described to the Australian government is that within the centre of where these people live in those communities it might be somewhat secure.
“But to say `it's safe, there's no daily fighting, send them back', that's not an accurate picture or context.”
The regional chief with the UNHCR, Richard Towle, has also questioned the advice in the cable, saying the DFAT assessment did not reflect his organisation's official position.
The advice from DFAT is likely to feed into a Country and Policy Guidance Note to be released within weeks and to be used to assess future Afghan issues.
A number of non-government organisations, including Amnesty, are currently being consulted about the guidance note.
Ms Kazem, who has been interviewing Afghan asylum seekers housed at the Curtin airbase and at Darwin, will meet with Department of Immigration officials on Friday, as well as representatives from the Refugee Review Tribunal and Independent Merrits Review panel.
“The speculation about this note, or what I hear, that more Afghans are going to be rejected because there's more of a positive spin on the security situation in Afghanistan, if that is what is in this note, then definitely my presentation will not agree with that,” she said.
The comments come as authorities begin processing 1200 asylum seekers affected by the suspension, which is largely blamed for overcrowding in Australia's detention network.
There are more than 5000 people in immigration detention in Australia in facilities on the mainland and on Christmas Island, of whom about half are from Afghanistan.