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Spin can’t hide Afghan facts

Saturday, July 10, 2010 By Hadi Zaher


Emergency protest held in response to Julia Gillard's proposed ‘offshore processing’ of refugees. Melbourne, July 7. Photo by Sue Bolton. “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

I can’t help but be reminded of the these words of Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering as the big parties in Australia intensify efforts at scoring goals at the others expense by putting forward players who can kick the ball (in this case asylum seekers) the hardest.

In a fashion mastered through trial and error involving the MV Tampa, the “children overboard” scandal and other tragedies, a section of Australian politicians have gained considerable skill in twisting the facts in the asylum seeker debate to their own cynical advantage.

Too often in the mainstream debate, the situations in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are not even considered relevant factors. In the case of Afghanistan, this is despite Australian involvement in the brutal war tearing the country apart.

Far too often, asylum seeker hysteria has been wrapped up in the election-geared debates about concerns over a population explosion, border security, an immigration flood and others. This comes with a topping of canny political constructs, such as “queue jumpers”, “illegal immigrants”, or “unauthorised arrivals”.

Both major parties seem willing to go the extra mile to outdo the other as to who can be the harshest towards those fleeing tyranny and, often, certain death.

The Edmund Rice Centre pointed out in its Debunking the Myths about Asylum Seekers in 2010 report that, on average, only 5% of those seeking asylum in Australia each year arrive by boat.

The ERC said the rise in asylum seeker numbers reaching Australia is mild when compared with the global trend and Australia has received far fewer applications than other developed countries.

The report said in 2008, only 0.57% (4750) of all asylum seeker claims globally were made in Australia. “In the same period France received 35,400 claims, the USA recieved 49,500 and South Africa 207,000”, the ERC said.

The report also debunks the Coalition’s claim that its “tougher” policies can stop boats of asylum seekers from arriving. It pointed out that when Temporary Protection Visas, which the Coalition supports reinstating, were introduced in 1999, asylum seeker arrivals by boat increased.

It said 48% more asylum seekers arrived by boat in 2001 than 1999.

Anyone even slightly aware of the realities in Afghanistan would know that, even if Australia had a total open border policy, the large majority of Afghan refugees do not have the means to get anywhere near Australia. Those who manage to get here do so by spending everything they, their families and often their friends have.

Despite the spin from the big parties and conservative columnists, it is not illegal to arrive in Australia to seek asylum. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution.”

Just because the mainstream news networks refuse to give proper statistics on the casualties and other measures of human suffering in the Afghan war does not mean the plight of the war’s victims goes away.

Just because Channels 9 and 7 do not air the portraits or stories of the thousands who fall victim to the bombs of the occupying forces or Taliban improvised explosive devices does not mean the suffering of those who survive is not real.

There are no queues to stand in for the hundreds of thousands of refugees made homeless by a war outside their control.

The Australian embassy in Kabul has no open means of contact with ordinary people. It remains stationed in an elusive location beyond multiple layers of concrete walls and lines of security guards.

How anyone, let alone someone in danger, could get past these barriers to apply for asylum defies common sense.

The Australian embassy in Pakistan has shifted its operations to Dubai. With an anti-refugee crackdown in Pakistan, only big bribes to Pakistani policemen can get you access to the buildings of refugee agencies.

Should an Afghan refugee get the opportunity to pursue applications in Pakistan or Iran, the minimum five year waiting period carries a high risk of death in a situation where the state apparatus is as much of a threat as those on the other side.

It is a fact that beyond a radius of 20 kilometres outside Kabul, you are in Taliban territory.

It is a fact that the government funded and protected by the occupying forces, including Australia, is based on an alliance of drug mafias and warlords. The president’s brother is one of Afghanistan’s largest opium traffickers.

It is a fact that the Afghan government has passed laws based on brutal Islamic fundamentalist policies. The 2009 Rape Law, which legalised rape in marriage, was just one example of laws that especially target the more open social values of the Hazara ethnic minority.

It is a fact that President Hamid Karzai’s amnesty law has pardoned and granted power and status to war criminals, including those involved in the attempted genocide of the Hazaras in the 1990s.

On January 19, the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime released a report that said over the past year, Afghans paid US$2.5 billion in bribes, mostly to government officials. The report said ethnic minorities, such as Hazaras, have to pay on average a larger bribe.

The Karzai government has successfully sidelined ethnic minorities to include Karzai’s Taliban brethren in ministerial positions, followed by Taliban-style laws. Many Afghan MPs have called for the beheading of the non-religious. The rule of fear continues.

Australian authorities are well aware of the cases of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees, mainly Hazaras, in concentration camps in Iran and Pakistan — many of whom have been returned to Afghanistan in bodybags.

They are well aware of the death of more than 400 Hazara men, women and children, shot dead on the streets of the Pakistani city of Quetta for belonging to a minority.

The Australian foreign affairs department would certainly be aware of the case of Hazara families being made homeless, men being killed and kids burned alive in the Hazara villages of Behsood in central Afghanistan.

It would be aware of the case of dozens of Hazara villagers being beheaded by the Taliban in the area north of Uruzgan in recent weeks.

Immigration minister Chris Evans would have certainly heard of the food and travel blockade of Hazara districts in Afghanistan’s central highlands. There are documented instances of Taliban and Islamic militants issuing religious decrees against Hazaras and condemning them as infidels, US agents and more.

The list goes on.

Unlike political spin, these facts show the true nature of the conflicts involving actual human beings. I hope Australian people, basing themselves on such facts, reject the cynical fear-mongering and recognise the rights of Afghan, and all, refugees.

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From GLW issue 844

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