My piece on Troy Media about the plight of Afghan refugees in Australia.
Recently Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a deal that would see Australia send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia. The Labor Government in Australia says it’s a “big blow” to illegal immigration and “If someone seeks to come to Australia, then they are at risk of going to Malaysia and going to the back of the queue”. There are about 6,819 immigrant asylum seekers in the Australian detention centers including more than 2000 of them Afghans including children and women in desperate hope of shelter.
Refugee rights organizations have strongly criticized the deal. Director of a rights group, Asylum Seekers Christmas Island (ASCI) Michelle Dimasi, who has done extensive reporting on plight of refugees from Afghanistan and Malaysia, says, “Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention and has a record of human rights abuse.” She added that this is a harsh policy and the Gillard Government needs to strop punishing those exercising their right to asylum, a human rights for all. Criticizing the deal she said, “From 2002 to 2008, 1300 people died in Malaysia’s detention centers or “depots” due to poor detention conditions and lack of adequate medical attention. Reports have revealed that detainees only receive one cup of water a day and no vegetables, making malnutrition common. Detainees are often held in overcrowded environments with 300-400 people in a 30 square metre room which often lack ventilation. There have been reports of sexual, physical and verbal abuse of detainees by the guards in detention centers.”
Some weeks ago, Afghan refugees in Australian detention centers in Sydney, Melbourne, Christmas Island, Western Australia and other places were on protest and hunger strike for several days. There has been disturbing news of suicide attempts by immigrants who are to be sent back to Afghanistan.
Two months ago, a young Afghan named Meqdad Hussain committed suicide in Scherger detention center of Queensland on March 16. On March 28, another young Afghan committed suicide in Curtin center. A couple of weeks ago, two other men made attempts of self-harm and suicide. On Christmas Island, some detainees have sewn their lips. In some detention centers, refugees are kept in severe conditions and most have got psychological problems.
The conditions in Australian detention centers are in violation of the basic human rights. Media and refugee rights advocates are not given access to the immigrants in those centers. Recently some new articles were added in the law paving way for deportation of refugees who take part in protest and peaceful sit-ins inside the detention centers. Addition of stricter articles in refugee laws will not resolve the issue, but increase self-harm and suicide attempts.
The international community, human rights organizations and the United Nations have kept silent on the tragedy of Afghan refugees in Australia. It is not reported in international media other than some Australian newspapers. Local refugee rights groups have been conducting protest demonstrations in Melbourne recently, but it has not attracted any international attention from the Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations.
This year in January the Government of Ms. Gillard signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Afghanistan. It allows forced return of refugees, who are rejected asylum. This was a shameful agreement on the basis of false assumptions of “peace and security” in Afghanistan as a reason for those asylum seekers to be deported by force. Afghan media and MPs have rejected it.
The MoU was a shameful deal not based on ground realities. Last year the Australian Embassy from Kabul had sent a report to its Government saying the Afghan asylum seekers are fleeing Afghanistan as economic migrants, not genuine refugees. It added, very ridiculously, that the asylum seekers who escape the country are actually living in a ‘golden age’ here. This flawed report was used as source for the decision-making by the Australian Government regarding the asylum seekers. Many refugee groups, academics and experts in Australia rejected that bogus report and doubted the assessment saying the conclusion is far from ground realities. The international community and United Nations should pressurize the Australian Government against the new strict amendments in refugee laws, and the inhuman treatment in detention centers.
Forceful deportation of the refugees will not stop influx of Afghan refugees. Afghan-Australian commentator Hadi Zaher says, “Tougher measures have not and cannot stop the flow of refugees to Australia or any safe destination in the world while wars and concerns remain.”
UNHCR should not only condemn the forceful expel of Afghan refugees, but also send a high-level delegation to investigate the situation in those centers that make young boys commit suicide.