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Commission statement on Australia’s response to Afghanistan crisis

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Friday, 27 August 2021

A statement from the Australian Human Rights Commission:

The Australian Human Rights Commission has serious concerns about the human rights situation in Afghanistan, heightened by the attacks on Kabul airport overnight, and the corresponding impacts on the Afghan diaspora in Australia.

Commission President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM said she met with Home Affairs Minister, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, last week and raised these concerns, and has subsequently written setting these out more fully to Minister Andrews and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, the Hon Alex Hawke MP.

Professor Croucher said the Commission welcomed the Government’s allocation of 3,000 places to Afghan nationals within Australia’s refugee resettlement program and noted that the Government has said this figure is a floor, not a ceiling.

Professor Croucher said the Commission was deeply concerned for the safety of Australians, Australian visa holders, and any family members of Australia’s Afghan diaspora who remained in Afghanistan.

The Commission has urged the Government to consider expanding Australia’s refugee resettlement program with a specific Afghan intake, as it did in 2015 when it offered an additional 12,000 places to people fleeing Syria and welcomed any initiatives in that direction.

Other comparable nations, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have announced that they will resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, and Australia should similarly consider expanding its intake. The intake should prioritise family members of Afghans in Australia, and members of groups that are at particular risk of persecution in Afghanistan – including the Hazara, women and girls, and LGBTIQ people.

Professor Croucher said the Commission held further concerns about the change in circumstances for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, including those who are on temporary protection visas (TPVs) and safe haven enterprise visas (SHEVs), and those in immigration detention.

“We have asked for an urgent reassessment of all Afghan asylum seekers who have not received a positive protection finding, in light of the changed conditions.” Professor Croucher said.

“The Commission notes that there are currently 55 Afghans in closed immigration detention facilities, including refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom have faced extensive periods of detention with material impacts on their mental health,” she said.

“I commend the Government’s recent announcement that no Afghans will be asked to return to Afghanistan while the security situation remains dire.

“Given there are no real prospects of them returning to Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, the Commission has also urged the Commonwealth to consider their release into the community, where possible, and with appropriate conditions if necessary.”

Professor Croucher said the Commission had raised the matter of the approximately 4,000 Afghan TPV and SHEV holders in Australia, and had asked the Commonwealth to consider granting them permanent protection in light of the changed circumstances.

Further background: Many Afghan TPV and SHEV holders in Australia are part of the ‘Legacy Caseload’, asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat prior to 1 January 2014, who are treated differently from other groups of asylum seekers and have faced lengthy delays in the processing of their substantive visa applications.

The Commission’s 2019 report, Lives on Hold, examined in detail the human rights concerns facing asylum seekers and refugees in the Legacy Caseload and Australia’s compliance with its international human rights obligations. Lives on Hold: Refugees and asylum seekers in the ‘Legacy caseload’, is available at https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/asylum-seekers-and-refugees/publications/lives-hold-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-legacy