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Refugee caste system playing favourites

24 February 20171 comment

As the world lurches from one conflict or crisis to another, a caste system among refugees is emerging which sees countries and agencies prioritising one group over another.

So, when it comes to being a refugee, your nationality can be a life or death factor.

Currently, Syrian asylum seekers are routinely prioritised over, for instance, Afghans in what has become a dangerous game of odd man out for refugees seeking sanctuary in the West.

European and other western migration agencies produce legally authoritative country guidance reports that assess the level of violence in a country.

For the past decade or so these reports have consistently portrayed most of Afghanistan as “safe”. This has given them the justification to deport off Afghans, since internal migration to these “safe provinces” removes the threat of violence or persecution.

The implication is that many Afghans are not forced to leave their homes but are rather voluntary migrants. But the foreign ministries of countries such as Australia and the US deem all of Afghanistan to be unsafe – as a guide to citizens thinking of traveling there.

The International Monetary Fund has also expressed concerns over Afghanistan’s ability to cope with the massive number of refugees returning home to the war-torn country, an influx only expected to increase.

More than 700,000 Afghans returned home in 2016, the second largest refugee group after Syrians, the Washington-based organisation said.

An additional 2.5 million refugees and internally displaced people are expected to follow over the next year and a half, which would increase the country’s population by 10 per cent, according to the report.

“This is seriously aggravating the government’s capacity to absorb refugees in an already difficult environment of high unemployment and internally displaced people after decades of conflict,” the report said.

With daily battles between government forces and Taliban insurgents, the number of people who have fled their homes for safer parts of Afghanistan has hit a record high.

According to a recent UN report, more than half a million Afghans were internally displaced by fighting last year.

The UN has launched a $550 million humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan saying about a third of the population was in need of assistance this year, a 13 per cent jump from last year.

After 15 years and tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, Afghanistan is still dangerously unstable and persistently at the bottom of almost every major human development index.

And EU plans to deport Afghan asylum seekers will not only leave tens of thousands of migrants in despair in Afghanistan, but also undermine security in the war-torn country, a top UN human rights expert has warned.

“Sending them back now clearly adds to instability,” Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said during a recent visit to Afghanistan.

“These people cannot be absorbed into Afghan economic and social life. The government clearly says, ‘Look, we don’t have the capacity.’”

This year, 411,327 Afghans have been newly displaced by the conflict, according to UN figures. Another 509,150 Afghans have been ordered to leave Pakistan, bringing the number of “people on the move” inside Afghanistan to almost 2 million, the highest since 2002.

And, since 1979 Afghanistan has ranked between four and five out of five on the global political terror scale. Level five is the highest where: “Terror has expanded to the whole population.”

The mass flight of Afghans from their homes has occurred in the context of human rights abuses on a massive scale.

This is in contrast to the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan when Afghan asylum seekers in the West were welcomed as freedom fighters.

The prospects of Afghan asylum seekers have worsened since 9/11. Since then, the number of Afghan asylum seekers to the US has drastically dropped as a result of policies influenced by the War on Terror which mistrust refugees from many Muslim countries.

The election of President Trump has exacerbated this.

The policies of Trump and others undermines the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol on the status of refugees.

But in the framework of the convention, individual states always have final say on refugee and asylum policy. It seems Afghans have been downgraded on the pecking order of deserving people seeking refuge from conflict, torture or trauma.

Ironically, it could be argued that it was Western powers led by the US and the UK who played a significant part in creating the conditions that forced Afghans to flee their country.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist