At-a-glance: Australian-Afghan asylum agreement
08 February 2012 | 03:56:03 PM | Source: AAPA legal challenge is underway in the High Court that could determine the fate of asylum seekers who are listed for forced returns under the controversial repatriation deal which allows Australian authorities to send failed Afghan asylum seekers directly back to the war-torn country.
In January 2011, the Australian government reached the criticised agreement with Afghan authorities under which failed asylum seekers will be sent directly back to Afghanistan.
Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen hailed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which formalised the pact, as a “major breakthrough” in tightening Australia’s borders against people smugglers and non-refugees.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Representative Richard Towle was also a signatory on the deal.
But the move has been strongly criticised, with leading Australia-based social-justice group, the Edmund Rice Centre, saying there is no reason to believe returned Afghans will be safe.
“Over the past eight years, the Edmund Rice Centre’s research into Australia’s deportations has found that returning asylum seekers to Afghanistan has produced direct and fatal consequences,” the organisation said in a statement.
It said the consequences had been felt by the returned asylum seekers themselves and their immediate families.
“Many others have suffered threats and attacks, and today live with the well-founded fear of the very persecution they sought to escape.
“Many Afghan asylum seekers in Australia are members of the Hazara ethnic minority – objects of discrimination and persecution in Afghanistan for decades.
“There is no reason to believe that the ethnic and sectarian factors, fuelling hostility towards them, have dissipated.”
The statement issued by the Edmund Rice Centre was signed by 42 organisations including the Refugee Council of Australia and the Uniting Church in Australia.
More than 14 prominent experts in the fields of social justice, religion and health also added their names to the statement.
The statement says signatories reject the MoU and demands the Australian government “address its humanitarian obligations”.
Mr Bowen has previously said only Afghans genuinely in fear of the Taliban or facing other troubles in Afghanistan would be affected by the agreement.
More than 4000 Afghans have arrived in Australia claiming asylum since 2008, with half of all arrivals by boat heralding from the troubled country.