Immigration officials accused of using wrong info

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Hazara People note: We do respect all ethnic groups, but Hazara People are not Afghan. Afghan or Pashtun is another ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Sue Lannin reported this story on Friday, July 15, 2011 12:18:00

SHANE MCLEOD: Australian immigration authorities have been accused of relying on wrong information to reject a request for asylum from a 15 year old Afghan boy from the persecuted Hazara ethnic minority.

An Afghan expert from the Australian National University says mistakes were made by the independent reviewer who assessed the initial rejection of the boy’s claim by the Immigration Department.

And a former Australian diplomat and immigration tribunal member has told The World Today that pressure was placed on tribunal members to ignore some sources of information.

The Immigration Department says it relies on the latest available country information to make decisions.

In its latest report on Afghanistan the United Nations says civilian casualties have been increasing.

Sue Lannin reports.

SUE LANNIN: According to the United Nations Afghanistan is not a safe place.

Its latest civilian casualty report says nearly 1500 civilians were killed in the first six months of the year – a rise of 15 per cent from the same time last year.

Most were killed by insurgents.

UN special representative in Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura:

STAFFAN DE MISTURA: These are not just figures. These are names. These are people. These are men, women, elder people, children. These are Afghan people.

SUE LANNIN: Despite the dangers Australian immigration authorities have rejected a claim for asylum from a 15 year old boy from the Hazara ethnic group – a group which has traditionally been persecuted by the majority Pashtuns.

Afghan expert professor William Maley is from the Australian National University. He’s read the ruling.

WILLIAM MALEY: The decision maker in this particular case asserted that in the province of Ghazni from which the child came the population was overwhelmingly made up of Hazaras. This is the ethnicity of the applicant. But it’s simply wrong as a claim.

Ghazni is a Pashtun majority province. And this is an error of fact equivalent to asserting that the vast majority of the population of New South Wales is made up of Indigenous rather than European Australians.

SUE LANNIN: The World Today has obtained a copy of the ruling by the Independent Merits Review which assesses decisions made by the Immigration Department.

The ruling notes that a major report by the US think tank the Carnegie Endowment stated that the Taliban are the dominant political force in Afghanistan including the Pashtun majority province of Ghazni.

But in the next paragraph the reviewer notes that Ghazni province is overwhelmingly populated by Hazaras.

Professor Maley says that’s wrong and the reviewer should be dismissed by the Immigration Minister.

WILLIAM MALEY: I think the minister should take steps immediately to remove from making decisions on these kinds of cases the person who was responsible for the gross error in this particular case.

SUE LANNIN: A December 2010 report from the UN refugee agency said that Ghazni had a precarious security situation and the Taliban were reported to control most of the rural areas outside the capital.

The lawyer for the boy Steven Forrest has told The World Today that he believes immigration rulings are being based on outdated information including a memo from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which referred to a golden age for Hazaras in Afghanistan.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told the ABC that she couldn’t comment on individual cases.

An Immigration Department spokesman says each case is judged on its merits and on the latest country information available.

Phil Glendenning is from the Edmund Rice Centre which has tracked the fate of asylum seekers who were sent back to Afghanistan.

PHIL GLENDENNING: Well the ones that we have tracked we know that there were 11 who were returned who have been killed. And we believe that number of course is far higher, well in advance of 20. But we can confirm the deaths of 11.

And look when you make these decisions and you get them wrong, people pay with their lives.

SUE LANNIN: Of the 11 people that were killed were any of them Hazara?

PHIL GLENDENNING: All of them were Hazara.

SUE LANNIN: Ali Karimi is from Ghazni province was granted refugee status in Australia.

ALI KARIMI: You can’t imagine. I mean even talking about that but if you go to the situation, we came from that situation how it is dangerous to go out.

SUE LANNIN: So you would never go back because it’s too dangerous?

ALI KARIMI: That’s right. Never, never, never.

SUE LANNIN: So you feel it’s not safe for someone to be sent back to Ghazni province?

ALI KARIMI: Definitely, 100 per cent, more than 100 per cent is not safe.

SUE LANNIN: Bruce Haigh is a former Australian diplomat and was a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal under the Howard government.

BRUCE HAIGH: Through various means it was made known to tribunal members that their decisions ought to be based on certain advice; not across a broad spectrum but within a fairly narrow field so that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and other sources were not regarded as being necessarily being good or appropriate for decision makers to take as primary sources.

The whole decision making process needs to be reviewed. I mean what you’ve got is a decision making process which is slanted to keep people out.

SHANE MCLEOD: Former Australian diplomat and immigration tribunal member Bruce Haigh speaking there to Sue Lannin.

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