Afghan Hazara asylum seekers to be forcibly deported from Australia

Refugee advocates say men would be at risk of persecution after two Hazaras with links to Australia were attacked by Taliban

Taliban have made significant advances in the Hazara-majority Jaghori district and set up armed checkpoints. Photograph: Rahmatullah Naikzad/AP

At least seven Afghan Hazara asylum seekers are set to be forcibly deported from Australia, despite increasing violence against the ethnic minority in Afghanistan, and targeted attacks against those who have been in Australia.

The Hazaras, all men who were living in the community, have been “re-detained” by Australian authorities over the last four weeks, and have been moved to Wickham Point, outside of Darwin, ahead of their removal from Australia. It is not known when they will be deported.

Refugee campaign groups have called on immigration minister Scott Morrison to halt their deportation.

Two Hazaras with links to Australia were brutally attacked by Taliban fighters the last month, both on the road between the capital Kabul and the Hazara-majority Jaghori district in south-eastern Ghazni province.

The main road south from Kabul to Ghazni is known in Afghanistan the “Highway to Hell”.

On 20 September, dual Australian-Afghan citizen Sayed Habib Musawi was pulled off a bus at the roadside, tortured and shot dead by Taliban militants.

Ghazni’s deputy governor said Musawi was targeted because of his Australian citizenship, the militants accusing him of coming from an “infidel country”.

Musawi was visiting Afghanistan to see his grandchildren.

A week earlier, Zainullah Naseri, who was deported against his will from Australia in August because it was judged safe for him to return home, was reportedly captured by the Taliban as he travelled on the same route between Jaghori and Kabul.

Naseri told The Saturday Paper Taliban fighters found his Australian driver’s licence and photos of Australia on his phone, threatening him, “You [are] from an infidel country, we kill you. Why [did] you come to Afghanistan? You [are] a spy.”

Naseri escaped after two days having been beaten, whipped and tortured while the Taliban tried to secure a ransom for him.

“Life is too bitter. It would have been better if they had killed me.”

Naseri was forcibly deported in August 2014, but the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) ruling to send him back was made in December 2012, based on security advice at that time. The RRT found while Hazara did face targeted persecution, Naseri could survive in his home village and reach there safely.

“There is a route from Kabul to Jaghori that is secure, there is not a real risk the applicant will suffer significant harm using that route to return to his district,” the tribunal said.

In the 18 months since, emboldened by the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban have made significant advances, controlling swathes of territory surrounding the Hazara-majority Jaghori district. The Taliban have captured major roads in the area, and have set up armed checkpoints, stopping and searching vehicles.

In March 2013, after Naseri’s determination was made, the RRT was told by the director of the Afghan NGO Safety Office that Hazaras were being targeted by the Taliban because it was believed they were western agents.

And a Department of Foreign Affairs cable in July 2013 said “security on the roads linking Kabul … and Ghazni has deteriorated in the last two years. There have been more and more documented cases of abductions and targeted killings perpetrated by the Taliban”.

In response to Musawi’s death, a DFAT spokesman said “the area where these events reportedly occurred is contested by the Taliban”.

A fortnight ago, the Taliban seized control of the district of Ajrestan, near Jaghori, after days of fighting.

Three villages were razed and 70 civilians killed. Fifteen people suspected of collaborating with authorities were beheaded, including women, according to BBC reports.

The Hazaras re-detained by Australian authorities are part of a larger group, also including several Iranians, set to be deported from Australia.

Assessments on the majority of the Hazaras were made in late 2012, using the same obsolete security information as in Naseri’s case.

Three of them are from the same Jaghori district as Naseri and Musawi, and must travel the same road to their homeland.

There is no avenue for a merits review of their cases. Only ministerial intervention can prevent their deportation.

The office of immigration minister Scott Morrison has not responded to queries from Guardian Australia.

Migration agent Liz Thompson, who has extensive experience in Afghanistan, said Hazaras sent back to the country were at serious risk of being caught and killed.

“The murder of Sayed Habib and the torture of Zainullah occurred in the precise manner that these men facing removal have been saying would happen to them – after being picked up at Taliban checkpoints on the roads.

“Some of these men currently in detention have to travel exactly the same roads to exactly the same home district. In terms of the risk of persecution, their profiles are just like Zainullah, there is nothing that distinguishes them.”

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said Australia risked breaching its non-refoulement obligations under international law by forcing asylum seekers back to a place where they faced persecution. He said Australia could not rely on obsolete security information to deport people.

“There needs to be a moratorium on all of these returns, and a reassessment of all the Afghan cases because of the dramatically changed security situation in the country.”

President of Refugee Council of Australia Phil Glendenning has written to the acting secretary of the Department of Immigration pleading for the government to suspend all returns of Afghan asylum seekers. He briefed department officials last month.

“It was clear to me, from my discussions with the department that the government was acting on information that was out of date and was not aware of the extent of the deterioration in security within Afghanistan.”