The prime minister, , has recommitted Australia to long-term economic and security support for Afghanistan during a state visit by the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding over Australia’s , which will focus on economic infrastructure, agricultural productivity, civil service training, anti-corruption initiatives and programs to educate and empower women and girls.
But the two governments did not discuss the involuntary return by Australia of Afghan asylum seekers to their country, the Afghan president said.
Australian Hazaras protest visit of Afghan president Ashraf Ghani
Turnbull said Australia and had a strong and enduring connection.
“This historic visit has also underscored the growing partnership between our nations and has been a valuable opportunity to discuss our ongoing security and development cooperation,” he said. “Since 2001, we have supported Afghanistan in its efforts to tackle terrorism and build a stronger, more stable and resilient nation.”
In an , Ghani said the government and people of Afghanistan were grateful for Australia’s long-running assistance.
“May I start by paying tribute to the 42 Australians who paid the ultimate sacrifice and to thank the 18,500 Australians who served with enormous dignity, honour and courage in my country,” he said.
He conceded Afghanistan had suffered “reversals” since the withdrawal of international combat forces but said his government remained committed to creating a stable, centrally governed Afghanistan.
whom Australia judged not to meet its protection obligations under the refugees convention.
Since 2014, Australia has forcibly returned a small number – the Guardian understands fewer than 10 – Afghan asylum seekers to the country. The majority have been Hazaras, an ethnic and religious minority that faces systemic and sustained persecution across much of the country, according to the and .
The Australian government has consistently maintained that no person is returned to danger and that Hazaras, if they are unsafe in their home village or province, can relocate to live safely in other places – in particular the capital, Kabul, to where many Hazaras have fled.
Ghani’s presence in Australia was vociferously demonstrated against on the streets of Canberra by members of Afghanistan’s Hazara diaspora, who said their compatriots faced being sent home to persecution, torture or death.
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Ghani said the issue of forcible returns of asylum seekers was not discussed when the two leaders met.
“We have not discussed this issue,” he said. “This has not been part of our discussion. There have a been protests of course. People are concerned.
“But, again, let me give you context. Afghanistan is a country where last year – 650,000 from Pakistan and the rest from Europe.”
Neighbouring Pakistan and Iran have hosted more than a million Afghan refugees for decades and , where people cross back and forth across the porous borders and are possibly counted several times.
Ghani, a US-educated anthropologist and former finance minister, with expertise in building institutions in poorly governed or failed states, has had a difficult presidency since assuming the role from Hamid Karzai in 2014.
Afghanistan’s economy has stalled and the security situation has steadily deteriorated.
The Australian government’s own assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan says that security has continued to decline in 2016 and that at least 29 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were affected by conflict.
“The Taliban now controls or contests more territory than at any other time since 2001.”