Refugees face dangerous limbo as we slam the door on Afghans

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Jill Singer  From: Herald Sun
July 22, 2010 12:00AM

WHY is Australia suddenly sinking the boot into asylum seekers from Afghanistan? Like Kevin Rudd before her, Julia Gillard isn’t telling.

I think we can guess though.

Labor sees electoral advantage in getting tough on certain refugees. Forget Gillard’s promise that Australia won’t turn its back on those in genuine need. The evidence is mounting that that is precisely what is happening.

The United Nations has issued a “please explain” as to why Australia is suddenly rejecting the majority of refugee claims made by Afghans.

Indeed, there has been a dramatic turnaround in how such claims were handled under Rudd and are now being processed under Gillard.

Six months ago more than 95 per cent of claims from Afghans were being accepted. The approval rate has recently slumped to just 30 per cent.

Why? Is Afghanistan suddenly a peaceful, democratic country where citizens feel safe? On the contrary, nine years into the war, terrorists now control much of the south of the country, with Western troops being killed at an escalating rate.

Despite the rising death toll of Australian troops, both Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott support our military presence there.

Gillard claims this is because of the threat that terrorists trained in Afghanistan pose to Australia.

But the truth is if our troops pull out there’ll be mass slaughter in Afghanistan and the Taliban will cut loose.

The coalition troops are still there because Afghanistan is not yet ready to keep its own peace. Self-evidently, this means that the place is not safe.

Afghanistan remains a hell-hole for many, particularly the ethnic Hazara people, who constitute 9 per cent of the country’s population.

The Australian National University’s William Maley, a leading authority on the Hazara, says the outlook is getting worse for them in Afghanistan.

Those who manage to make it to Pakistan, particularly Quetta, are also being persecuted.

In Melbourne, lawyer and refugee advocate Jessie Taylor sees the evidence first hand. Taylor cares for several young Hazara men who escaped violence in their homeland and have been granted asylum here. The emails these teenagers receive from home are chilling – some with images of their compatriots, beheaded by the Taliban.

But while the Australian Government and Opposition acknowledge the dangers that our troops face in Afghanistan, they are both ignoring the danger posed to Afghans themselves.

The Australian Government is now trying to deny the Hazara people access to fair processing of their asylum claims.

Instead of recognising them as a distinct group of people in need of protection, our Immigration authorities are now demanding that individual Hazara asylum seekers explain why they are in need of protection.

As Taylor points out eloquently, it’s a bit hard to prove while your head is still attached to your neck.

THIS approach to the assessment of claims also flies in the face of the current UNHCR guidelines on Afghanistan that Australia’s Immigration authorities are meant to follow. What guidelines are they following instead, we might well ask?

A spokesperson for the Immigration Department has told The Australian that in February it received new information about Afghanistan which suggested things were more stable there. As a result, Australia is refusing more and more claims from Afghans fleeing alleged persecution.

But what is this “new information”? And why is the Government keeping it secret? Clearly, it can’t be of much substance, or the Government would soon release it and the UNHCR would know about it.

Strangely enough, the “new information” keeps being mentioned, but never revealed. Just who are we kidding here? Does anyone really believe that Afghanistan is a safe, functioning democracy?

Australia is now actually planning to send asylum seekers back to Afghanistan – without bodyguards and before they’ve even exhausted their appeal options here.

The Government has organised for Afghan asylum seekers on Christmas Island to be offered inducements to go home – such as promises of education and money. Of course, that’s not much good to you if you’re dead (but the Taliban could probably rejoice over the cash injection it will get from robbing the corpses).

I’d like to think we’d see a full and frank exchange about this matter during Sunday’s debate – but what’s the bet it will just be more silly slogans from Gillard and more of Abbott scrawling hasty pledges on scraps of paper?

Source:  Herald Sun

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