New refugee selection criteria, released yesterday by the Immigration Department, appear to have raised the bar for Afghan asylum-seekers, while painting a mixed picture of the security situation inside Afghanistan.
While the overall security situation in the wartorn nation has not improved, with civilian and IED attacks increasing, the advice says conditions for Hazara communities have improved.
The Coalition’s immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said the government was “unable to make the facts fit their story” and that had been their constant problem on the issue.
“What they said back in April, and particularly the implication that the UNHCR was changing their view, has not been borne out by the notes issued today and expose the announcement pre-election as an election fix, as we knew at the time,” he said.
The notes released yesterday represent a significant revision of earlier versions, a draft of which was leaked to The Australian.
In the earlier drafts, which according to the department were never acted upon, policymakers were required to take into consideration the government’s policy positions.
The presence of such directions was criticised by refugee lawyers, who argued that a person’s refugee status should be judged on merit rather than the prevailing policies.
Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre director David Manne said yesterday the guidance notes must be subject to rigorous, independent analysis.
“What’s fundamental is that these guidance notes provide an accurate and balanced assessment of both the country situation and applicable law,” he said.
The guidance notes are an attempt to harmonise refugee decision-making and follow major fluctuations in refugee success rates, particularly for Afghans. Afghans are currently being approved as refugees at a rate of 50 per cent, down from almost 100 per cent at the beginning of the year.
The notes argue that while the “overall security situation has not improved”, a generalised fear of violence is not enough to sustain a refugee claim.
Drawing on a range of sources, the new guidance notes nevertheless rely heavily on assessments by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s post in Kabul.
The overwhelming majority of asylum-seekers to arrive in Australia are Hazara Afghans, who have traditionally faced persecution in Afghanistan
Almost 1000 Afghans have arrived so far this year. That is compared with 351 Sri Lankans, the second-largest category.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was unable to comment.