End of freeze welcome, but new Afghanistan position raises concerns for returnee safety

Whilst welcoming Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's lifting of the freeze on processing of Afghan asylum claims, the Edmund Rice Centre today expressed serious concerns about the Minister's statement that he now expects lower numbers of successful claims.

“The Minister has stated that ‘more up-to-date country information’ has led to a decrease in the number of primary acceptances of claims from Afghans who were not subject to the processing suspension,” said ERC Director Phil Glendenning.

“However our concern is that 2010 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since 2001,” Mr Glendenning continued, “and most victims of the increased violence have been civilians, especially women and children.”

“The UN reports issued in June, and again most recently on September 14, affirm that insurgents have greatly increased the level of violence in Afghanistan and have now become by far the biggest killers of civilians in the country, and that 2010 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since the war began,” Mr Glendenning said.

“The September UN report states that the number of civilians assassinated or executed by anti-government elements surged by more than 95 per cent. These numbers include the public executions of children,” he said.

“We are very concerned that Afghan children and women are increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict,” Mr Glendenning emphasised.

“The Secretary General's most recent report states: 'Women casualties increased by 6 per cent and child casualties leaped by 55 per cent from 2009,' ”

“The report that was prepared for the UN General Assembly advises: 'Improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks by antigovernment elements caused the most casualties among women and children, including 74 children, which represents an increase of 155 per cent from the same period in 2009,' ”

“Of particular concern is the fact that Afghan families are increasingly being killed and injured in their homes and communities. The UN report states that the human impact of the conflict highlights the fact that measures to protect Afghan civilians effectively and to minimise the impact of the conflict on basic human rights are more urgent than ever,“ Mr Glendenning affirmed.

"On research trips to Kabul I met with numerous young men who had been returned to Afghanistan after their claims for protection were rejected by the Australian Government. On one visit I accompanied one of these 'failed' asylum-seekers in Kabul to the graves of his two young daughters. He told me that the grenade that killed his daughters after his return was meant for him," Mr Glendenning said.

“Just two weeks ago the UN stated that all concerned must do more to protect civilians and comply with their legal obligations under international law. We would urge the Australian Government to hasten slowly in order to ensure the safety and security of people as their first and foremost priority”.

”From our experience at the Edmund Rice Centre, we know that when mistakes are made in returning people to unsafe situations and danger, we put their lives at serious risk. Our research in Afghanistan has found that a number of returnees from Australia and their children were killed upon return and many today live with the well founded fear of persecution they sought to escape. We can never do this again”, Mr Glendenning 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

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