Seeking asylum from Afghanistan

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Seeking asylum from Afghanistan

Posted 19/10/2010 by Janet Phillips

What is the situation globally? Afghanistan has been the leading country of origin of refugees for the past three decades with up to 6.4 million of its citizens having sought international protection during peak years. At the end of 2009, there were more than 2.9 million Afghan refugees and one out of four refugees in the world was from Afghanistan. In total there were over 3.6 million people of concern to the UNHCR for Afghanistan at the end of 2009. (See the UNHCR's 2009 Global Trends and Global Report 2009–Afghanistan for more details on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.)

What is the situation in our region? Due to the various conflicts in the Middle East and South West Asia our region continues to see large numbers of people in need of humanitarian assistance, some of whom attempt the journey to Australia by boat.

How many Afghan asylum seekers have arrived by boat? During the previous boat arrival surge (1999—2001) the largest number of boat arrivals were from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), of the 9490 unauthorised boat arrivals from January 2000 to 16 June 2009, 4199 were from Afghanistan. The majority of these Afghan arrivals were in 2000 (1061 arrivals) and 2001 (2596 arrivals).

Since 2008 (when the most recent surge began) the majority of asylum seekers arriving by boat have continued to come predominantly from Afghanistan, followed by Sri Lanka and Iraq. Between July 2008 and February 2010, 1966 Afghans arrived by boat. Between February and May 2010 approximately 1400 additional people arrived from Afghanistan by boat. Since then there have been more boat arrivals, many of whom were from Afghanistan.

How has Australia responded? Since 1998–99 Australia has offered 25 to 40 per cent, with an average of 30 per cent, of the available resettlement places each year to people from the Middle East and South West Asia regions.

Between 1999—2000 and 2008—09, there were 4280 onshore protection visas and 10202 offshore humanitarian visas granted to Afghan nationals under Australia's Humanitarian Program. In 2008—09 the Refugee Status Acceptance (RSA) primary acceptance rate for Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMA) from Afghanistan was 99 per cent. In 2009—10 the primary acceptance rate was 84 per cent.

On 9 April 2010 the Australian Government announced the immediate suspension of the processing of new asylum claims from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals. The suspension of processing for Sri Lankan nationals was lifted on 6 July 2010 following a review of country information. The suspension for asylum claims from Afghan nationals was lifted on 30 September 2010.

It has been widely reported that since the suspension the primary refusal rates for Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals had increased markedly. In a speech to the Lowy Institute on 6 July 2010, Prime Minister Gillard stated that 'during the past month the primary refusal rate [for Afghan nationals] has exceeded 70 per cent’. And in answer to a question put during the Senate Estimates (Immigration Portfolio) session in May 2010, DIAC stated: ‘There has been a steady decline in the primary acceptance rates of the main source countries over the past few months, in particular since March-April 2010, due to significant and emerging changes in country information.’

(Image sourced from: 'Young refugees on the Afghan border area of Pakistan', American Refugee Committee, http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/06/19/refugeeday/ )


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