Afghanistan is a major source country for asylum seekers and refugees globally, not only for Australia. UNHCR estimates that there are three million Afghan refugees worldwide; this constitutes one in three of the world’s displaced persons.[1] This number is rising with 33,500 Afghani’s making claims for asylum in 2010.[2] Civilians in Afghanistan face three major push factors: general violence and conflict, abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces, in addition to the plight of ethnic minority Hazaras.

Although Afghani’s constituted the highest number of asylum applications in Australia[3] they only counted for a fraction of total asylum claims worldwide. The figures below detail the asylum claims received over the 2010- 2011 period, up to and including June 2011. The majority of Afghan asylum seekers have been found to be genuine refugees. Even if applicants were rejected in the first stage of application to DIAC, up to 86% of those decisions were overturned upon review by either the RRT or the alternative ‘privatised’ system of IMR set up for irregular maritime arrivals (those arriving by boat without valid entry visas) who are processed as ‘offshore entry persons’ (see data below).

Afghan Arrivals in Australia 2010- 11 (first 6 months)
Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)

Total number of Protection Visa (PV) applications received from Afghan nationals

Non-IMA                           48[4]

IMA                                    380[5]

IMA (RSD requests)      1118[6]

Total number of PVs granted within this period[7]

Non-IMA                          25 (62.5%)[8]

IMA (RSD requests)      190 (24%)[9]


Refugee Review Tribunal

Total number of original DIAC decisions overturned upon review for non-IMAs

Non-IMA                          29 (74.4%)[10]


Independent Merits Review

 Indicates the total number of original DIAC decisions overturned upon review for IMAs

Overturned:                     303[11]

Affirmed:                           51[12]

Total overturn rate:      85.6%[13]


General Violence and Conflict
The contemporary conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001 with the United States led occupation to, among other reasons, overthrow the Taliban and install a democratic regime. However, a decade along Afghanistan remains embroiled in conflict. A recent report from International Crisis Group states that,

“After a decade of major security, development and humanitarian assistance, the international community has failed to achieve a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan. Despite billions of dollars in aid, state institutions remain fragile and unable to… guarantee human security [as] the insurgency spreads to areas regarded as relatively safe till now…”[14] (emphasis added).

Major international interest and involvement with the country includes the deployment of a special United Nations political mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA),[15] the presence of NATO forces under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)[16] and US/ Allied occupation. Despite a strong international presence, the country remains in a state of conflict and civilians are targets. Civilian casualties reached a record high in 2010; 2,135 civilians were killed with NATO, US and Afghan forces being directly responsible for 350 civilian deaths.[17]

Afghan children are particularly at risk as there has been documented use of child suicide bombers by the Taliban. A recent Human Rights Watch report indicates that children as young as seven years old are being used as suicide bombers.[18] Although this is denied by Taliban officials, UNAMA and the Afghan Human Rights Commission have also documented reports of child suicide bombers, in addition to being used to plant bombs targeting foreign contingencies.[19]

The conflict does not appear to be waning; in fact reports indicate that violence is escalating and anxiousness regarding the eventual US/NATO withdrawal. Recent events include the assassination of chief peace negotiator, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani,[20] and the assault on US embassy and NATO headquarters in Kabul by Taliban gunmen.[21] Just a snapshot view into the daily conditions of Afghanistan demonstrates why so many refugees and asylum seekers are produced from this country.

Afghan Security Forces
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), consisting of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP) has received US$29 billion dollars between 2002 and 2010. Despite this fact, they have been unable to function independently, enforce rule of law or secure any sustainable peace.[22] A method of addressing this problem came about in 2010 with the introduction of the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a collaboration of local officers to fill the gap where ANP are not present.[23]

However, the ALP has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and being related to local militias or other armed groups.[24] The US and ISAF have been actively seeking to build local security empowerment, however it has resulted in elevating the status of violent armed groups and placing them in an official role.[25] Sections of the ALP have been accused of engaging in murder, torture and rape of local civilians[26] all the while receiving support from the US. It has even been reported that such human rights atrocities are occurring in regions under Australian control.

The population of Afghanistan, despite already struggling with conflict between international forces and insurgents, cannot rely upon their local law enforcement. The threat of being killed or raped by local security forces is ever present and indicates an insecure environment whichever demographic they belong to.

Ethnic Hazaras
Hazaras constitute an ethnic minority, around 9% in Afghanistan and also make up the majority of the caseload for Afghan asylum seekers in Australia.[27] Hazaras have traditionally been persecuted and marginalised in Afghan society, although this was particularly acute during the Pashtun- dominated Taliban regime.[28] The DIAC Country Guidance Note for Afghanistan, published in March this year, devotes a whole chapter to discussing the persecution of Hazaras and provides indications of how they may qualify for refugee status, thus:

In order for a Hazara asylum seeker to be assessed as having a well founded fear of persecution on the basis of race, there will need to be evidence that:

  • the persecution involves serious harm to the person (s91R of the Migration Act refers and may assist in determining what is serious harm);
  • the persecution involves systematic and discriminatory conduct; and that the applicant’s race is the essential and significant reason for the persecution (noting that there may be more than one Convention ground for persecution).[29]

The persecution of ethnic Hazaras may have decreased since the Taliban rule. However, a regime change has not shifted the underlying social, ethnic and political structures that have ensured their oppression for so long. Minority Rights Group International raises this issue and cites the beheading of eleven Hazaras just last year as an indication that Hazaras are disproportionately affected. Furthermore, they note that government authorities and security forces have not investigated the incident.[30]

The focus on the war in Afghanistan has drawn attention away from the Hazara plight but it remains a major cause of refugee flows. Moreover, as outlined above, the Refugee Convention provides concrete parameters for Hazaras to claim asylum, provided they can supply evidence of individual persecution.

Next Month, we’ll be looking at China.

Danielle McKeen

IMA: irregular maritime arrival
RSD: refugee status determination

[1] UNHCR. 2011. Global Trends 2011. Division of Programme Support and Management, p 3.

[2] Ibid, p 26

[3] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2011. Asylum Levels in Industrialised Countries 2010. Division of Programme Support and Management.

[4]Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2011. Asylum Statistics: Australia 2010- 11 (first six months). Systems, Program Evidence and Knowledge Section, pp 7.

[5]Ibid, p 7.

[6]Ibid, p 30.

[7]Please note that it does not indicate the total number granted out of the total number requested; these could be granted from applications in previous periods and applications received during this period may still be pending.

[8]Ibid, p 14.

[9]Ibid, pp 32-3.

[10]Ibid, p 24.

[11]Ibid, p 35.


[13]Ibid, p 36.

[14] International Crisis Group, 4 August 2011. Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan. Asia Report No. 210, p 1.

[16] North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, 2011. International Security Assistance Force.

[17] Human Rights Watch, 2011. World Report 2011: Afghanistan.

[19] Ibid, p 2.

[21] ABC News, 14September 2011. Taliban Fighter Wreak Havoc in Kabul.

[22] International Crisis Group, 4 August 2011. Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan. Asia Report No. 210, p 1.

[24] Ibid, p 6.

[25] Ibid, p 7.

[26] ABC News, 13 September 2011. Afghan Police Accused of Rape, Murder.

[27] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2011. ‘Country Guidance Note: Afghanistan’. Country Guidance Unit, Onshore Protection Branch, p 5.

[28] Ibid, p 6.

[29] Ibid, p 11.

[30] Minority Rights Group International, 6 July 2011. State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 – Afghanistan.


Filed under Refugee flows

5 responses to “Afghanistan

  1. Pingback: September/October 2011 | The Asylum & Refugee Law Project

  2. Pingback: September/October 2011 | The Asylum & Refugee Law Project

  3. Hi! My name is mentioned above. I have been working with US Army as translator for 3 years in Maydan Wardak province, Afghanistan. I live in Kabul city, Me and my family have been threated by unknown people (interdeused as a Taliban member) by cellphone and a letter stumped by Taliban. For this porpose I had to move my parents to ghazni province, where no one knows that they have me as a son that works for amirecans. But my selve can not leave amirican base, because I know soon I leave the base the Taliban will assassinate me. Life is really impossible for me in Afghanistan. I shared this information with US Forces as well and they guid me to apply for amigration visa in US, and I did it. It has been awhile since I applied for amigration visa in the US Embassy in Kabul Afghanistan, but I had nothing to hear from them. H
    Therefor I come to ask Austrial government if they can help me and rescue a man kind… Please guid me, is there any possibility for me to apply for amigration visa in Australia? If yes what should I do?? I am looking for answer in my email address…
    Thanks allot.

  4. It is stories like Mohammeds that breaks my heart. His family and him have been threatened by the Taliban and if he does not gain a legitimate refugee status in Australia he will be faced with death or horrifying circumstances in his own country. Isn’t it time that Australia actively engages in helping out refugees flee to a safer place instead of traumatising them more and detaining them ever further? Clearly Afghanistan is not a country that is for its Peoples first interest which is why Australia should act as a host nation for people who are living under threat. The process to gain Australian citizenship status is ridiculous. Firstly you are not even guaranteed residency and secondly the process takes years by which then who knows what could have happened to people fleeing from persecution. There needs to be order and control

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