A Hazara asylum seeker is set to be forcibly deported from Australia back to Afghanistan on Monday, after a last-minute plea to the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, to consider Afghanistan’s was rejected.
The man facing removal – who Guardian Australia has chosen to refer to as “T” out of concern he will face persecution in if identified – will be the fifth Hazara Afghan sent back since Australia re-started forced repatriations of Afghans in late 2014.
Australia’s decision to refuse T protection was made in 2013. The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly in the three years since, with the withdrawal of international troops and the re-emergence of the and other extremist groups.
Last year was the most violent year on record for civilians in Afghanistan according to the , with 11,002 civilian casualties, the majority by “anti-government elements” such as the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s minister for refugees and repatriations, Sayed Husaain Alemi Balkhi, in February 2015 that Afghans should not be forcibly repatriated because of the worsening security situation.
Australia’s memorandum of understanding with Afghanistan of Afghan citizens (although it says voluntary returns are “preferable”). But Balkhi said that agreement was signed in 2011, when the security situation, with the presence in Afghanistan of thousands of foreign troops, was significantly more stable.
The Australian government’s current country advice for Afghanistan – issued in September 2015 – says the security situation across Afghanistan has “deteriorated significantly over the last 12-18 months, as anti-government groups intensified their efforts and the international military contingent gradually withdrew”.
“Insurgent forces are contesting the Afghan government’s control in many areas. No part of the country can be considered totally free from conflict-related violence, which escalated markedly over the course of 2014 and 2015.”
But the Australian government says Hazaras – an ethnic minority in Afghanistan historically persecuted by the Taliban – face no greater risk than any other ethnic group.
A thematic report prepared in February 2016 specifically on the situation of Hazaras in Afghanistan, says, “There are many areas of Afghanistan that are contested by insurgent forces, and no part of the country can be considered free from conflict-related violence.
“Ethnic tensions exist throughout the country at a local level and can result in sporadic violence ... the threat of conflict-related violence faced by Hazaras is similar to that faced by members of other ethnic groups.”
The four Afghan Hazaras forcibly repatriated before T have faced serious hostility – the first, Zainullah Naseri, was reportedly kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban before escaping. Guardian Australia understands all four returned men are either no longer in Afghanistan or are actively trying to leave.
T, who is 42, has been in Australia since arriving by boat in 2012.
Having been “arrested” and flogged by the Taliban in the late 1990s, he fled to Iran for more than a decade before he was arrested and deported back to Afghanistan.
He fled Afghanistan again for Australia and lodged a claim for protection.
Before the Refugee Review Tribunal he said if returned to Afghanistan he would “be killed because of his religion [Shia Muslim] and because of being Hazara”.
But the RRT found it did not believe he would be persecuted on return to Afghanistan, saying it “did not believe Hazaras would be persecuted for seeking asylum in the west”.
In a last-ditch appeal to the immigration minister, T presented evidence of recent violent attacks against Hazaras in Afghanistan, saying the information put forward was not available when his refugee determination was made more than three years ago.
“The trend of increasing danger for Hazaras in Afghanistan has been evident for several years. This has continued and indeed intensified over the past two years.”
The appeal was not accepted by the minister.
A spokesman for the immigration department told The Guardian: “for privacy reasons it would be inappropriate to go into detail about individual cases, however people who have exhausted all avenues to remain in Australia and have no lawful basis to stay are expected to depart”.
“Australia does not return failed asylum seekers who are found not to be refugees where this would contravene Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under other international human rights instruments.”
Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said “obvious flaws” in Australia’s refugee determination process had not been fixed.
“The dangers in Afghanistan are even greater now. We urge the minister to use his wide discretionary powers to reconsider this case and halt this removal.”
T was scheduled to be deported from Darwin on Monday.