MSF and the Refugee Council of Australia say repatriation to Afghanistan would be inhumane
13 March 2002
Australia - The Refugee Council of Australia and the international medical aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières call on Australia's political leaders to show compassion towards the long-suffering Afghan people by guaranteeing their right to protection. We believe it is dangerous and simplistic to imply that Afghanistan is now safe and that asylum seekers can be sent back. Despite recent comments in the press by both Prime Minister John Howard and Labor leader Simon Crean regarding the alleged 'changed nature' of life in Afghanistan, evidence collected on the ground shows that, in many circumstances, conditions are in fact worsening rather than improving since the fall of the Taliban. MSF has been working in Afghanistan for over 20 years. Our medical and logistical teams can testify to the fact that the humanitarian needs of returnees are not being met. The war is not over; fighting between rival warlords threatens to descend into a civil war; unexploded weapons still contaminate large parts of the country; fifty per cent of Afghanistan is inaccessible to aid organisations; the drought is entering its fourth year and the food crisis has reached alarming proportions. Afghanistan has more than half a million internally displaced people, and between three and six million refugees in Iran and Pakistan. Its recent history of war, ethnic/religious persecution and environmental collapse have driven its inhabitants in all directions. The Refugee Convention clearly states that protection of refugees must continue unless the conditions in the refugee's home country have substantially changed. Clearly, this is not the case in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is in no state to ensure protection of its citizens' human rights. While the Australian government has indicated its repatriation package will be open to those who voluntarily choose to return home, it would be unfortunate if the treatment asylum seekers have experienced while in Australia coerces some to return, despite their reservations. It is time to remind the Australian government that, under international law, asylum seekers have the right to protection and to be treated with dignity.