Australian authorities are maintaining that the country is safe for many Afghans to return to. The government’s Immigration Department recently supplied Afghans with a four-page “country information report” about Afghanistan, containing minimal substantive information about country conditions, and giving misleading information about human rights protections.
But Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of violence, rape and home invasions in many regions of Afghanistan, inside and outside Kabul.
Afghan refugees in Australia are currently having their temporary visas reviewed by the Australian government. However, many Afghans who fled years ago may not even know how insecure conditions are in their regions of origin.
“Reports from the field show that Afghanistan is far from stable,” said Alison Parker, a refugee protection expert at Human Rights Watch. “Security forces are still committing serious human rights abuses against local populations. This is not a safe environment for refugees to return to.”
International law requires that Afghans who harbor a well-founded fear of persecution be protected from return to places where their lives or freedom are threatened. Officials claim that returnees can, at least, live in Kabul, but this is an unrealistic expectation for many Afghans, who originally come from rural areas and need extended family networks to survive. Australian authorities are not taking into account the specific conditions that Afghans slated for return will face in rural areas.
The information provided to Afghans by Australia’s Immigration Department contains two paragraphs on human rights, describing the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations’ efforts to hold seminars and workshops. Notably absent are any descriptions of ongoing human rights abuses in the country.
“Australia has provided Afghans with four pages of incomplete and misleading information about conditions in Afghanistan,” said Parker. “On the basis of that document, Afghans cannot make accurate judgments about the insecurity they may face if sent home.”
For example, Australian authorities plan to deport some Afghans to Logar province, where Human Rights Watch documented severe security problems due to abuses by local militia gunmen, including robberies and murder. Human Rights Watch also found cases of political intimidation, and documented several attacks on girls’ schools.
Others slated for return from Australia come from Zabul, an extremely unstable province. U.S.-led military operations are underway in several areas, and local military leaders are involved in ongoing criminal activities and revivals of Taliban-era social restrictions. United Nations operations were suspended in Zabul in late April, after gunmen shot two de-miners there.
Human Rights Watch also documented cases of returning refugees being targeted for extortion by local forces, especially outside of Kabul, due to a perception that they are carrying home money they obtained abroad.
Many other provinces in Afghanistan suffer from similar problems.
Australia also proposes to return women and children, especially several Afghans who entered Australia as minors without other family members and who will return to Afghanistan alone.
“The haste to send people back to Afghanistan is rash and irresponsible. Vulnerable women and children risk being sent to unstable and dangerous regions. In some places, women are still facing Taliban-era restrictions,” Parker said.
Human Rights Watch called on the Australian government to refrain from returning individuals without proper screening that takes into account current human rights conditions in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch also urged the government to ensure that all recognized refugees enjoy a secure legal status and humanitarian assistance in accordance with international law.