Aus. gov’t sends Afghan refugees back to danger

April 2, 2011
Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The Australian government recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the government of Afghanistan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

It permitted the forcible deportation of Afghan refugees — including children separated from their families — from Australia back to Afghanistan.

Refugee advocates have sharply criticised the MOU. They say it does not guarantee the safety of returned asylum seekers and point out that the Afghanistan puppet government is illegitimate and corrupt.

A March 30 meeting organised by Refugee Action Collective Queensland (RACQ) attracted about 40 people to hear a panel of speakers discuss the serious problems with the MOU, and the Australian government’s refugee policies in general.

The meeting featured immigration lawyer and refugee advocate Sonia Caton, Hazara community representative from the Romero Centre Hasan Ghulam and Griffith University’s Dr Sarah Davies.

Caton told the meeting that the Australian-Afghanistan MOU would place refugees in serious danger. The Australian government was establishing a "reintegration centre' near Kabul, which she said was unable to provide safe and acceptable living conditions for returned refugees.

Afghanistan was the only country in the world which was "in a state of war, but where the West was trying to impose post-conflict programs”, she said.

Ghulam said members of the Hazara ethnic minority in Afghanistan are especially persecuted. Harazas have made up the majority of Afghans seeking refuge in Australia in recent years.

He condemned Australia's asylum seeker system: “A 'duty of care' is missing from our government's refugee policies,” he said.

Davies said the Australian government’s policy of processing refugees offshore in places such as Christmas Island “is the most heinous system for treating asylum seekers. There is a major difference in the legal rights of offshore compared with onshore asylum applications.

"The asylum seeker system is in crisis in Australia and internationally. The West is increasingly basing its refugee policies on exclusion,” she said.

"We should totally disband the onshore-offshore processing system, and implement processing based on community residence.

"We need to encourage community compassion for asylum seekers. We cannot expect South Africa, Pakistan, Iran and Malaysia to continue to take the bulk of the refugee intake.”

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