Afghan refugees deported

April 16, 2003


Afghan refugees, some of whom have lived in Australia for three years, are being taken from their houses in the early hours of the morning and put into detention because the immigration department argues that they are not from Afghanistan. Some are being deported.

Riz Wakil, an Afghan refugee living in Sydney, told Green Left Weekly that many Afghans have received letters from the immigration department in recent months that say things like, “based on the evidence we have, we don’t believe that you have reason to fear for your life”, or “we believe you didn’t give us enough information about your travel to Australia, the way you made your journey from Afghanistan ... instead of spending three weeks in Pakistan, you really spent three months”.

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs requests a written explanation, which refugees have to pay a solicitor to help them prepare. “Once you’ve submitted it”, Wakil explained, “DIMIA doesn’t tell you about the progress of your application, and you don’t find out if there’s a negative outcome until the police and DIMIA officials arrive at your door and take you to detention.”

Wakil says that, to his knowledge, this has been happening on and off for the past 18 months with increasing frequency. More recently it has been at a rate of one or two per week.

Wakil explained that he has talked to refugees who have been strongly discouraged by immigration officials from appealing their detention to the Refugee Review Tribunal, as is their right. Refugees have been told that an appeal will take a long time, during which they will remain in detention, and that they will probably be unsuccessful. Three people Wakil knows have been deported after being pressured not to appeal.

Wakil told GLW: “One guy I know personally was taken from his home in Regents Park [in Sydney’s western suburbs] six weeks ago. He is still in Villawood detention centre.” This man rejected the option of paying a $10,000 security deposit to be able to leave detention for the duration of his appeal, Wakil explained. He didn’t have any way of getting the money, and when released would have no right to work or receive income support.

Wakil also knows of an Afghan refugee from Adelaide who has been detained in Baxter for 12 months because he mounted a challenge to the decision to detain him.

In early December the Sarwari family — Mohib, Fatima and their four small children — were taken from their Launceston home to Baxter detention centre. DIMIA alleged that they had lied to the department about being Afghan and were in fact from Pakistan. After a successful appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal on January 14, Fatima and her children were released to return to Launceston, but Mohib has remained in detention.

Local supporters of the Sarwaris raised enough money to send lawyer Marion Le to Afghanistan, where she obtained the equivalent of a birth certificate, and photos of the family’s relatives. This was not enough for the Refugee Review Tribunal, however, which has asked the couple to appear before the tribunal with Le and her translator.

The main “evidence” used to accuse refugees of lying about being Afghan is the findings of interpreters or linguists, a procedure which has been widely criticised. “Immigration department interpreters are not Hazara”, Wakil explained. Most Afghan refugees in Australia are from the persecuted Hazara minority.

“If I have a non-Hazara interpreter, and if you send my interview tape to an analyst who is not from Hazara background, they will say, 'He’s not speaking Dari’”, Wakil explained that the Hazaras’ language is Hazaragi, not Dari. “You can say it’s a dialect of Dari, but it’s very different. It has lots of Mongolian words in it.”

Wakil also explained: “Many people speak with a Pakistani or Indian accent. We don’t have our own cinemas, radio stations or songs. Because most people don’t have access to university or college, we have to rely on whatever we have access to in order to learn. People are used to hearing Indian and Pakistani films”.

Wakil reflected the exasperation felt by many Afghan refugees, angered by the way DIMIA accuses them of lying or not being refugees. Many have their visas cancelled or applications rejected because they spent time in a third country on their way to Australia, or because they had false documentation from another country.

“We can’t get to Australia without going through other countries”, Wakil pointed out. “There are certainly no direct flights! We have to have forged documents to be able to go beyond the countries immediately neighbouring Afghanistan, documents which might say we’re Iranian or Pakistani.”

Wakil told of a refugee sent back who lasted just one week in Afghanistan, before fleeing again to Pakistan.

“Before coming to Australia, nothing meant anything to me”, Wakil explained with some emotion. “We didn’t know about women’s rights, about human rights. We didn’t know what it was like to live in a free country. Now people know what their rights and responsibilities are to other human beings. We know what it is to be fully human.

“To send us back to Afghanistan is the cruellest thing the government could do. Nothing has changed there. There is no work, no hope for the future. Knowing what sort of life is possible, we will go mad, crazy. We can’t go back.”

From Green Left Weekly, April 16, 2003.
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