Afghan refugees returned home, despite risk

Phil Glendenning: 'Deportation to Afghanistan is deportation to danger.'

The first asylum seeker to be forcibly returned to Afghanistan begged an Australian court for help the day he was due to be deported.

The judge used a two-year out-of-date security assessment of Afghanistan to rule that the 29-year-old ethnic Hazara’s home district, Jaghori, was “reasonably stable”.

“Jaghori is confined, it’s like a prison,” the man said through an interpreter, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. “The surrounding areas are all controlled by the Taliban. Many people die on the way to Jaghori.”

The deportation on August 26 has horrified Australian refugee advocates. The Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning had just returned from spending eight days in Afghanistan when the Hazara man was flown out of Sydney airport.

He said the security in the wartorn country was undoubtedly deteriorating. “I have been a regular visitor to Afghanistan for nine years,” he said on August 27. “Never before have I seen the security situation as grim as it is now.”

He said the impasse over this year’s presidential election has left a “vacuum” filled by violence and it was “intrinsically dangerous” for certain groups of people, especially Hazaras.

“Members of the Hazara ethnic group are particularly vulnerable. Insurgents have been shelling parts of Kabul where Hazara people live. Afghan police are reluctant to enter Hazara areas due to the heightened risk of violence.

“Just a few weeks ago, the Taliban halted two buses in the Ghor province, singled out the Hazara passengers and shot them at the roadside. Fourteen people were killed.”

The UN refugee agency also considers returning refugees to be at significant risk. Glendenning said these returnees were often targeted by the Taliban: “Senior Afghan officials told me that anyone who has sought asylum in a western country would … be at risk.

“No one with any knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan could possibly come to the conclusion that conditions are conducive to safe return.

“I would hold grave fears for the safety of any person returned to Afghanistan in the current circumstances, let alone a Hazara person from Jaghori who will be perceived as having sympathies with foreigners.”

Refugee supporters gathered at Sydney’s international airport to try to delay the man’s 9.40pm flight. They picketed the Malaysia Airways counters and handed leaflets about the imminent deportation to passengers and crew.

Federal police detained and questioned the activists and issued move-on notices.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said during the appeal to the Federal Circuit Court: “The case also reveals serious flaws in the refugee determination system and the inconsistency of Refugee Review Tribunal decisions. At least eight other RRT decisions using more recent country information have recognised the danger in Jaghori province and granted protection visas.”

Glendenning said the risks were clear: “There is no question in my mind that deportation to Afghanistan is deportation to danger.”

Through work with the Edmund Rice Centre, Glendenning has uncovered multiple cases of refugees deported by the Australian government being killed by the Taliban or disappearing.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there were about 600,000 internally displaced people in Afghanistan and expected this number to rise to more than 750,000 by the end of this year.

UN guidelines produced a year ago said Hazaras continued to be in need of international refugee protection based on their ethnicity.

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