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Australia: Afghan Refugees May Not Qualify for Asylum - 2001-12-24

Australian authorities say that the nearly 2,000 Afghan asylum seekers in the country may no longer qualify for political asylum, now that there is a new government in Afghanistan. The government has decided to suspend processing asylum requests from Afghans.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock defended the decision to stop processing asylum requests by Afghan illegal immigrants. Mr. Ruddock told ABC Radio that fear of persecution by the Taleban is no longer a reason for seeking refugee status. "One suspects that if people's claims were simply, as they've been put, a fear of the Taleban, a young man concerned about being conscripted, and if that's the nature of the fear, well that fear is no longer founded," he said.

With the Taleban no longer in power in Afghanistan, Mr. Ruddock insisted the government is right to delay processing asylum applications while it gathers information about the situation. Mr. Ruddock said his government will now concentrate on the process of repatriating Afghans back home.

But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, has asked countries to continue to process asylum claims while it evaluates the situation in war-torn Afghanistan.

Refugee advocates also say that Afghanistan is too unstable for people to return and that thousands are facing starvation as winter begins.

Australia has gained international attention for toughening its policies on illegal immigration in the last year, in the face of a growing number of asylum seekers from the Middle East and South Asia trying to reach Australian shores.