Australia's deportation agreement with Afghanistan: “History demonstrates cause for grave concern”

Edmund Rice Centre director, Phil Glendenning, has expressed grave concern at Australia's signing of an agreement that will allow for the deportation from Australia of Afghan asylum-seekers back into situations of danger.

Announced on Monday by Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was signed with the Afghanistan government and representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.(UNHCR), permits the involuntary repatriation to Afghanistan of failed asylum-seekers.

“Many Afghan asylum-seekers have now been made vulnerable by this memorandum of understanding, including members of the persecuted Hazara ethnic minority and women who will be perceived as having departed from acceptable cultural norms,” Mr Glendenning has stated in an opinion editorial written for The Age newspaper.

“The memorandum even explicitly lays out the groundwork for the deportation of separated and unaccompanied children back to the war zone that is Afghanistan,” he stated.

Since 2001, the Edmund Rice Centre has conducted a major research project into what happens to the asylum-seekers that Australia rejects. “History demonstrates there is cause for grave concern. This research has shown that when mistakes are made in returning people to unsafe situations, their lives are put at serious risk,”

Mr Glendenning states. “In Afghanistan the research found that some returnees from Australia and their children were killed upon return and many today live with the wellfounded fear of the very persecution they sought to escape,” he affirmed.

The Edmund Rice Centre continues this on-going research with intensive monitoring of the human rights situation in Afghanistan and other source countries of the Australia's asylum-seeking boat arrivals.

“In the Edmund Rice Centre's experience, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of people flee their homelands at a time of war and crisis out of desperation rather than aspiration. Rather than coming to countries such as Australia to seek a better life, they arrive here seeking to avoid persecution that threatens them and their children,” Mr Glendenning stated.

Mr Glendenning quoted the quarterly report on Afghanistan released last month by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in which the discussion of the security situation there opens with the simple statement: "During the reporting period, the number of security incidents was 66 per cent higher than during the same period in 2009."

“The facts reported by Secretary-General Moon speak for themselves: in Afghanistan ordinary civilians have continued to bear the brunt of intensified armed conflict as we have seen civilian casualties, including deaths and injuries, increase by 20 per cent in the first 10 months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009,” Mr Glendenning continued.

“Last June in Uruzgan province, where Australian Forces are most present, 11 Hazaras were decapitated. In late 2008, a repatriated asylum seeker, Tour Gul, who was given assurances of safety by the Australian government, was shot four times in the head by the Taliban. Another returnee, Abdul Azmin Rajabi, saw his nine and six-year-old daughters Yalda and Rowna killed as a consequence of his being targeted four months after being returned from detention in Nauru,” he stated.

“The UN report states that the anti-government elements have continued to increase their use of improvised explosive devices to directly target civilians through abductions and assassinations. Indeed, assassinations reached unprecedented numbers in August last year, killings that mostly targeted civilians and police. This is not evidence of an improving situation.” he stated.

“Last year was the most violent in Afghanistan since 2001, and most victims of the increased violence were civilians, especially women and children. Shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison pointed out at the time of the Christmas Island boat tragedy that the life of each of the asylum seekers on the boat was as precious as those of every Australian. So it is for those who have fled from Afghanistan. Unless their safety can be guaranteed in a deteriorating war zone, forced returns run the risk of repeating the sins of the Howard years,” he concluded.

Over the past eight years the Edmund Rice Centre has conducted research into what happens to Australia's rejected asylum seekers. Two major reports have been published Deported to Danger and Deported to Danger II – leading to the making of the television documentary, A Well Founded Fear, which screened nationally in 2008.

For interview/comment contact: Phil Glendenning 0419 013 758 Sean Cleary 0403 434 512

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