Millicent Caffrey, Thursday, 6 January 2011The Gillard Government has struck a deal with Afghanistan’s Karzai Government to allow Australian authorities to forcibly deport Afghans who do not want to return to the war torn country.
The Memorandum of Understanding that was finalised last month bears striking similarities to Howard-era policies. Under the Liberal Government’s Pacific Solution Immigration officials sent asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status were rejected back to high risk countries such as Afghanistan. In 2002, enemy of the Taliban, Tour Gul, was killed in Afghanistan after he was deported from Australia. Another rejected asylum seeker Mohammed Hussain was decapitated by gunmen in front of his family after he was returned to Afghanistan in 2008.
The Memorandum is the latest in a series of policy moves that contradicts Labor’s promise during the 2007 federal election campaign of a more humane attitude towards asylum seekers. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd suspended claims for asylum by Afghans and Sri Lankans in April 2010 and also oversaw a four week standoff between 78 asylum seekers on board the Oceanic Viking in late 2009.
Labor’s tough stance on asylum seekers was revealed in US embassy reports from October 2009 to be problematic, with Rudd’s former foreign policy and national security adviser in opposition, Peter Khalil, recommending that the leader reiterate to the Australian public that only 1000 asylum seekers entered Australian waters that year while 60,000 over stayed their visa.
Despite the cables revealing that the US viewed Australia’s surge of asylum seekers was a “drop in the ocean,” Julia Gillard has continued an uncompromising approach in the proposed MoU and the establishment of a regional processing centre in East Timor.
Director of the Edmund Rice Centre, Phil Glendenning, has scrutinized both these strategies, stating that Australia should not ask East Timor, one of the poorest countries in the region, to take its responsibility.
Mr Glendenning also said he would “struggle” to take the assurances of the notoriously corrupt Karzai government that no repatriated Afghans will be harmed upon their return under the MoU.
“I have visited the graves of asylum seekers who were returned to Afghanistan,” Mr Glendenning said. “No Australian policy should force people back. Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has also expressed grave concerns for the safety of civilians.”
The Government’s own Smart Traveller website instructs Australians “not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack”.