Afghanistan: New report questions rush to return

In particular the report, 'Continuing need for Protection and Standards for Return of Afghan Refugees', raises concerns over recent public statements from the UN refugee agency the UNCHR, noting apparent inconsistencies between the refugee agency's recent comments and its own guidelines for returning refugees.

The report also singles out Australia and the United Kingdom as two countries that appear to be basing returns policy on mixed UNCHR messages.

Amnesty International said:

'States should refrain from using any forced or coercive measures to return any refugee to Afghanistan. No one should ever be forcibly returned, whether directly or indirectly, to a country where they may face serious human rights abuses.

Those deciding Afghan asylum claims must base their decisions on international standards of protection alone. The political priorities of any particular state are not part of those international standards.

In light of the current high rate of refugee returns, lack of absorption capacity to handle those returns and continued insecurity in Afghanistan, now is not the time for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and states to be encouraging and promoting the return of Afghan refugees.

The maintenance of international standards is critical to ensuring protection and safe and dignified return. Failure to respect international standards scrupulously may lead to renewed cycles of displacement.'

The report sets out standards that Amnesty International considers essential to ensuring sustainable return of Afghan refugees in safety and in dignity. The human rights organisation is now calling on the UNHCR to clarify its position on the return of Afghan refugees and asylum-seekers. This particularly follows a statement from the refugee agency last week advising governments 'to give active counselling to Afghan asylum-seekers on possibilities for assisted return', as the time was now 'ripe for Afghans ... to be offered the option of voluntary repatriation.' This followed, in early July, a UNHCR suspension of returns to northern Afghanistan because of volatile security conditions.

Amnesty International said:

'The UNHCR appears to be both encouraging states to work towards returns, while itself claiming not to be promoting such returns.'

Amnesty International also noted that the UNHCR took a far more cautious approach over Kosovo, notably stating that certain persons should not directly or indirectly be compelled, unduly influenced, induced or encouraged to return.

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