Over recent weeks, lawyers and campaigners have been racing to the courts to prevent immigration department plans to deport Afghan refugees back to Kabul.
Refugee advocates raised alarm bells on March 5 when four Afghan Hazara refugees who had been living in the community on bridging visas were re-detained after attending scheduled immigration meetings.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre's Pamela Curr told ABC radio the men had hoped to have their visas renewed but were sent to Maribyrnong detention centre instead. She said the Australian government may be planning to “make an example” of them to discourage others from calling on Australia's protection obligations.
“A court case at the moment is awaiting a decision [on the legality of forced deportations],” she said. “It's a Federal Court case with five judges. We thought they would wait for that decision because these men's cases hinge on that decision. But unfortunately yesterday a decision seems to have been made to play hardball and we believe that these men are going to be deported.”
The ABC said 125 Afghan people have been denied refugee status and exhausted all available appeals processes. Some “failed” asylum seekers are held in detention and others have been living on bridging visas.
Immigration department media spokesperson Sandi Logan said the four men were being “detained in readiness for removal to Afghanistan”. He said the men had been given “due process” and denied there was a “quote unquote 'round-up'” taking place.
However, two more Afghan asylum seekers were given notice of deportation at Villawood detention centre in Sydney's west. These men and the four in Melbourne have taken legal action, and at least three were lodging appeals in the federal Magistrates Court.
So far, all moves to forcibly remove Afghan refugees have been delayed by last-minute court injunctions. Legal challenges are often accompanied by community campaigns to protect refugees facing deportation, such as Melbourne residents holding a picket outside Maribynong last year to prevent a refugee being removed by plane the same day.
Australia's attempts to start involuntary deportations have met international opposition.
As Australian lawyers were fighting to prevent the removal of Hazaras, 30 MPs in Afghanistan signed a letter to the Australian government that warned against returning refugees to the country's capital.
Kabul MP and Hazara Mohammed Ibhraim Qasemi told ABC radio's PM that the country could not protect returned refugees from persecution.
"We already have too much problem here. If they came those people here we cannot help them too. They are a human too, you know," he said.
"Can they guarantee the security for them? No. They can provide the food for them? No.
"They can provide the place for them? No. So I don't know how they do that."
Kabul in particular is a dangerous city for Hazaras. Many have been forced to move to the city of Quetta in Pakistan, where bombings have recently killed hundreds of Hazaras.
But Australian authorities appear determined to show it can throw its weight against refugees in need of protection. It has already forcibly deported Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka and created such awful conditions in its offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island that refugees elect to return home “voluntarily”.
It still claims its refugee determination process is fair and thorough. Yet recent challenges in the High Court, and several cases showing severe bias in decision-making, reveal the system is anything but capable of delivering protection to those who need it most.
Australian National University Professor William Maley wrote in the March 14 Canberra Times that there is a “small but extremely vulnerable cohort of asylum seekers who have fallen victim to flaws in the review process, and it is they who are at risk of being deported”.
He gave the example of a reviewer who rejected the refugee plea of a 16-year-old Hazara from Ghazni province who had fled fearing the Taliban. The reviewer said that “Ghazni province is overwhelmingly populated by Hazara with some sources giving a figure of 100 per cent Hazara”.
Maley, an expert on Afghanistan, said that in fact “Ghazni is a province in which the majority are Pashtuns, the ethnic group from which the Taliban are largely drawn”.
This “constituted an error of catastrophic proportions”.
Maley said other “ludicrous mistakes” were “creeping into other such decisions”.
Early last year, senior reviewer Steve Karas was able to continue assessing the cases of Hazara refugees after the federal court found he had an “apprehension of bias” against them.
Karas is believed to be among several senior reviewers who routinely reject Hazara refugees.
The truth is that Australia's refugee policy is tied up in rhetoric and trying to outdo the Coalition's cruelty. It is not about due process, but staying on message that refugees who seek protection are a legitimate target to be scapegoated and blamed for the economic and social pain of the rest of Australians.