Australia has ordered an investigation into claims that up to 20 Afghan asylum-seekers were killed by the Taliban after being forcibly returned to their country. A TV documentary reports that those who died were among 400 Afghan asylum-seekers denied entry to Australia by the outgoing John Howard administration. Their fate was examined by a research group, the Edmund Rice Centre, which says it has proof of nine deaths.
The Howard government’s “Pacific Solution” policy detained people with asylum claims on islands in the Pacific, preventing them from setting foot on Australian soil. New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cancelled the Pacific Solution and the forced returns policy.
The deaths were brought to light by a documentary due to air on the SBS channel, A Well-Founded Fear, produced by Anne Delaney and based on the research of the Edmund Rice Centre’s Phil Glendenning. It examined the cases of about 400 Afghans detained at the Australian detention center on the Pacific island of Nauru who were forcibly repatriated, their asylum claims rejected. Many reported that they were assured by Australian immigration officials that it was safe for them to return home—and told that they would be held in detention for the rest of their lives if they failed to do so.
But the Edmund Rice Centre documented the deaths of nine of the returned asylum-seekers at the hands of the Taliban, and believes the true figure is actually closer to 20. The investigation also found that many repatriated Afghans are hiding in Pakistan, or have been forced to move between there and Afghanistan in order to evade capture. They include an Afghan man whose daughters were killed in an attack on his home near Kabul, after he was denied asylum by Australia in 2002.
The new immigration minister, Chris Evans, has asked his department to look into the claims. His predecessor Phillip Ruddock admitted that “mistakes were possible,” but asserted that Australia’s asylum system was “robust and credible.” He emphasized that the UN Refugee Convention does not prevent asylum seekers from being returned to dangerous places. (Sydney Morning Herald, BBC News, Oct. 27)