REFUGEE groups fear a “flawed” government assessment of Afghanistan will unfairly taint asylum-seekers’ applications to stay in Australia.
The assessment by the Australian embassy in Kabul, dated February 21, says many ethnic Hazaras in Afghanistan are fleeing the country as economic migrants, not genuine refugees, and that they are living in a “golden age”.
However the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice was today condemned by refugee groups and greeted with scepticism by academic experts.
The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre’s executive director and principal solicitor, David Manne, said the document was “notorious” and was one of the “key sources” used to reject Afghan asylum claims.
Processing of Afghan asylum-seekers is about to resume after a six-month suspension lifted yesterday by the Gillard government.
Refugee groups are worried the DFAT assessment will continue to be used to determine whether hundreds of Afghan asylum-seekers, most of them from the Hazara ethnic minority, should be able to stay in Australia or be ordered home.
Mr Manne said the document was at odds with the bulk of evidence which pointed to a deteriorating situation in the war-torn country.
He said it cast “serious doubts” on how the government’s decision-making process would work following the lifting of the six-month freeze on processing of Afghan asylum-seekers.
“The big question here is whether or not decision-making is going to be consistently fair and evidence-based, or whether it’s going to be infected by the same serious flaws and dubious context we’ve seen in recent months,” Mr Manne told The Australian Online.
The refugee lawyer said the Department of Immigration needed to provide the “full and proper particulars” of the information in the assessment of Afghan asylum-seekers, arguing its “consistent refusal” to do so was a “clear-cut flagrant denial of natural justice”.
The proportion of Afghans who are having their claims for refugee status accepted has fallen from 95 per cent at the start of the year to about 30 per cent.
Refugee advocate Phil Glendenning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, said he was “staggered” by the DFAT assessment.
Mr Glendenning said Hazaras in Afghanistan sent back during the Howard government years were telling him that the “situation on the ground is less safe than it ever has been, particularly those in Ghazni province”.
“A couple of days ago, the lieutenant governor of Ghazni province was assassinated by a suicide bomb. Most of the Hazaras who are waiting in Australian detention centres are from Ghazni province,” he said.
Associate Professor at the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies at the Australian National University, James Jupp, also said he thought the assessment was “a bit over the top”.
“I don’t think anybody’s having a golden age at the present moment. You’d have to have a strong imagination to believe that,” he said.
Professor Jupp wondered how well informed the Australian embassy was.
“How would they actually know?” he asked.
“Most of our embassies in small Asian countries have a small staff – you can’t travel very freely in Afghanistan.”
DFAT’s assessment has also been questioned by the ANU’s Afghan expert, Professor William Maley, who says Hazaras have faced persecution in Afghanistan since the 19th century.
“There is no reason to believe that the underlying factors (both ethnic and sectarian) fuelling hostility towards Hazaras have dissipated,” Professor Maley said in June.