More refugees because Australia is a "soft touch” – or because more civilians are under threat?
by John Pratt
As the political debate heats up over who is to blame for the increase in the number of Afghan refugees, Malcolm “Returnbill” is pointing his finger at the “softening” by the Rudd government of Australia’s immigration policy. The reality – as the Human Rights Unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan points out in a new report – is that the increasing civilian death toll in Afghanistan (and other places) is more likely to be the cause of the increase in refugee numbers than changes to Australia's immigration laws.
“The 2008 civilian death toll is thus the highest of any year since the end of major hostilities which resulted in the demise of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says the Mission. “This disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of civilians.”
According to the report, the majority of the casualties, some 41 per cent, occurred in the country’s volatile southern region, which saw heavy fighting in several provinces.
The 1,160 civilians killed by anti-government elements represent an increase of 65 per cent over 2007 figures. The vast majority – 85 per cent – of them died as a result of suicide and improvised explosive devises.
Meanwhile, air-strikes were responsible for the largest percentage, some 64 per cent, of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces last year, with night-time raids, which sometimes result in death and injury to civilians, a continuing concern, according to the report.
The policy of returning Afghan refugees to the war zone is also causing the refugees to look further afield.
Pakistan recently began closing its largest camp for Afghan refugees out of fear that remnants of the Taliban had been using it as a hideout. Now, more than 70,000 Afghans are being uprooted once more. Many are making the dangerous journey back to their homeland. From war widows and teenagers to young families, they are on the move; hoping to rebuild their lives in a country many have not seen for decades. Mandy Clark recently visited the Afghan-Pakistan border, where she met with several refugees and followed them back to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
It is disgusting to see Australian politicians try to make political capital out of the misery suffered by those unfortunate to be caught up in the Afghanistan war, a war that is supported by both major political parties.
The policy that has contributed most to the sudden influx of Afghan refugees is the policy to make war on Afghanistan.
We should be opening the doors to these refugees. As in Vietnam, we have caused the problem. It is our responsibility to make sure we find homes for the families displaced by our actions.
A new United Nations report finds that in the past year the number of refugees worldwide has increased from 9 to 11 million. Khalid Koser, deputy director of the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, discusses the causes behind this increase as well as possible implications if the number of refugees continues to climb. Koser says the primary reasons for the increase are the continued presence of Afghan refugees plus new Iraqi refugees who have fled to Jordan and Syria. Without durable solutions, these refugee situations can become protracted, which has significant security implications for the host countries and their regions.
The refugees are desperate and are risking their lives to make the extremely dangerous journey to safety. No wonder that, when they think they may be towed back to Indonesia, they try to disable their boats. The resulting disaster is a result of our actions to make war on their countries.
What would we do if Australia was invaded and our towns and cities were destroyed? If our women and children we continually threatened by air strikes? Would we be looking for safer countries to live in? You bet we would.
Come on Australia – have a heart and accept the consequences of our actions.