THE Federal Magistrates Court has ruled that a reviewer who rejected the refugee claims of many Afghan boat arrivals appeared to be biased, taking an ”inflexible and mechanical” approach to the plight of Hazara ethnic minorities fleeing persecution.
Refugee approval rates for Afghan asylum seekers fell in the first three months of this year, despite the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, as the federal government came under pressure to stem boat arrivals.
Refugee lawyers accused Steve Karas, a former senior public servant in the Howard government, of taking a ”sausage machine” approach to the Afghan cases he assessed.
Those rejected included an unaccompanied 15-year-old Hazara boy, who then faced deportation, despite his family no longer living in Afghanistan. An Australian National University Afghanistan expert, William Maley, disputed the facts used by Mr Karas – which included material claiming the Hazaras were experiencing a ”new golden age” in Afghanistan – as ”flatly wrong”.
The court has ruled there was a real possibility Mr Karas appeared to be biased against Hazaras fleeing persecution, and this ”infected” his decisions.
In the case of a 37-year-old Afghan man, Magistrate Rolf Driver viewed previous decisions made by Mr Karas about Hazaras between January and March and found 32 of 90 paragraphs in the rulings were identical.
Mr Karas also relied heavily on a 2007 article in The Christian Science Monitor rather than United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees advice, in deciding Afghanistan was safe.
A solicitor with Brisbane’s Refugee and Immigration Legal Service, Steven Forrest, said: ”I would strongly endorse the comment made by his honour that it is important that decision makers should not take a glib or superficial approach to the claims of persecution by Afghan Hazaras.”
”The atrocity committed on 6 December, 2011, in Kabul is an example of the kind of ethnic and religious violence that is a constant threat to Shiite Afghans, particularly Hazaras, which Department of Immigration-appointed decision makers seem so intent on refusing to acknowledge.”
Professor Maley said: ”This decision shows how important it is that one has decisions of high quality on processes that turn on life and death matters. There is no room for sausage factory decisions.”
An Immigration Department spokesman said the court ruling ”does not indicate that Afghan Hazaras have received poor and unjust treatment” in their claims.
Final approval rates for Afghans receiving visas fell to 57 per cent in the three months to March 2011, compared with 98 per cent in 2010. Afghan approvals have since risen, as many cases have been successfully appealed to the Federal Magistrates Court.
The separate system for assessing boat arrivals will be scrapped next year. Arrivals will instead have access to the mainstream Refugee Review Tribunal.
The head of the immigration department, Andrew Metcalfe, told a parliamentary inquiry yesterday the surge of boats since the government was forced to abandon offshore processing has justified his warnings on the collapse of the Malaysia plan. A boat carrying 52 people arrived yesterday, the fourth this week. A total of 1631 asylum seekers and crew have arrived since October.
? The radio station 2GB breached the commercial radio code of practice when the host Chris Smith held a competition inviting listeners to guess how many asylum seekers were being buried in Sydney at a funeral in February, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has found. 2GB acknowledged the competition was offensive.