JRS Australia strongly condemns recent acts of violence and terror in Afghanistan and South Sudan. We call on the Australian government to do more to protect refugees and people seeking asylum fleeing these atrocities and at risk of further harm if returned from Australia.
“We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers fleeing unspeakable atrocities across the globe. At this time, we especially think of those on the front-lines in South Sudan and Afghanistan. These recent incidents oblige us to call on all governments, including Australia, to do more,” ~ Carolina Gottardo; JRS Australia Director.
No safety for Hazaras in Afghanistan
In late October 2018, the Afghan Taliban launched a series of attacks on Hazara communities across Khas Uruzgan, Jaghori and Malestan, and Ghazni provinces, killing hundreds and displacing thousands.
These areas have historically been peaceful, and have acted a safe haven for Afghanistan’s Hazaras, a predominantly ethnic Shia minority group that has been persecuted for generations.
After weeks of sustained violence, Hazara leaders and community members gathered in Kabul on 12th November 2018 to peacefully protest about the Afghan government’s inability to intervene and protect them. A suicide bomber blew himself up killing six people and wounding dozens more.
Professor of Diplomacy at ANU and Vice President of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), William Maley points out in a recent Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) press release that “recent attacks on Hazara districts are of no military significance to the Taliban, and make more sense as a symbolic strike to highlight the inability of the Afghan state to effectively protect members of a vulnerable ethnic and sectarian minority.”
“These attacks illustrate what has been clear for some time: that there are no safe areas to which Hazaras can be reasonably expected to return,” he adds.
JRS Australia’s mission is to serve, accompany and advocate for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum, including from the Hazara community. Many have been deeply impacted by these attacks, which have caused death, destruction of property, and forced movement of family members and friends.
Hazara community leader Hava Rezaie says, “These attacks are having a huge impact on our community in Australia. Two weeks ago, a friend at college found out that four members of her family were killed by the Taliban in Malestan. She was in extreme distress and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Another friend was in complete shock – she could not move, talk, or even cry – after finding out that her husband had been killed by the Taliban in Jaghori.”
“We are trying our best to support the thousands of people, mostly women and children, now trying to survive in Bamiyan or Kabul without food, shelter, or adequate clothing in the Afghan winter.”
But my message to you all is please advocate with us. We are tired of war, tired of being persecuted,” Ms Rezaie continues.
Violence continues despite peace deal in South Sudan
Further afield in South Sudan, a revitalized peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar is a very welcome development, however the latest civil war, which began in 2013, has taken a significant toll. A September 2018 report by a UK university reveals at 383,000 people have been killed across South Sudan in the last five years.
And despite the peace agreement, violence continues in some parts of the country. Some opposition and rebel groups continue to reject the peace agreement, and ceasefire monitors have identified active conflict hotspots in Unity state, and south west of Wau.
Two weeks ago, in Cueibet town, 175 kilometers south west of Wau, unknown assailants stormed the Jesuit Community and killed Fr. Victor-Luke Odhiambo SJ. As a Jesuit of 40 years, Fr. Odhiambo was the Principal of Mazzolari Teachers’ College and Acting Superior of the Community.
A public statement from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa and Madagascar states that South Sudan “has known conflicts for many years…Jesuits and their partners in mission have worked in Wau, Kajokeji, Tabura-Yambio, Lobone, Nimule, Yei, Maban, Rumbuk, Cueibet and Juba, and several have been attacked multiple times.”
As in Afghanistan, the security and political situation across the country is variable and fluid.
Image courtesy of JRS International Flickr
Consequences for Australia’s refugee policy
Both of these situations, and those closer to home in Myanmar, demand greater flexibility the Australian government’s response to refugees awaiting resettlement, or who are already in Australia.
JRS Australia calls on the Australian government and the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) to consider the following action:
- Halt the return of any Hazara to Afghanistan regardless of whether they have been granted refugees status or not.
- Ensure that decision-makers at primary and review stages of the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process take into account the clear and consistent evidence of ongoing violence against Hazaras across Afghanistan.
- Ensure refugees are permanently safe by abolishing temporary protection and addressing significant delays in citizenship grants to Hazara refugees in Australia.
- Recognise that South Sudanese refugees whose visas have been cancelled cannot be returned to South Sudan under current conditions, and have often have no links to South Sudan. Address the very real and unacceptable risk of indefinite detention by releasing people back into the community.
- Consider establishing an additional emergency quota within the humanitarian program that would see members of communities at risk of or experiencing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity offered protection.