Afghanistan refugee returns: 'Out of sight, out of mind'

The organisation said that the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated in 2003, with at least two thirds of the country now in a situation of 'generalised instability.' There have been armed attacks on the security forces in Kabul, local commanders continue to fight turf wars, civilians are often killed, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls are forced to marry and property is destroyed.

In its report Afghanistan: Out of sight, out of mind: The fate of the Afghan returnees, Amnesty International highlights its concerns that, under current conditions, the return of many refugees and internally displaced persons is unsustainable and is leading to destitution.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'We urge non-neighbouring states hosting Afghan refugees, especially industrialised states such as European Union countries and Australia, to be aware that the forced return of refugees or rejected asylum seekers from their territory sends out the misleading message that return to Afghanistan should be promoted. It is likely to set a dangerous precedent to developing states which host far larger numbers of Afghans.'

Amnesty International interviewed more than 100 refugees who had been returned to Afghanistan.

Three Sikh asylum seekers, who had been forcibly returned from the UK, were forced to seek shelter in a Sikh temple in Kabul. They reported being abused in a market place in Kabul and said they felt vulnerable as potential targets for persecution in a city where the majority of the Afghan Sikh community has not returned.

Lesley Warner said:

'Afghanistan must not be allowed to drop off the international agenda once again. The sustainability of people's return is also hindered by insufficient aid and reconstruction assistance from the international community. This must be remedied.'

Pakistan and Iran have provided a place of refuge for up to six million Afghan refugees between them for more than 20 years. However, in recent years, there have been increasing signs that 'asylum fatigue' in those countries has led to pressures on Afghan refugees to return, in contravention of international human rights standards.

Lesley Warner said:

'If refugees are unable to sustain their return to their country of origin there is also an increased likelihood, borne out by events in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, that they will once again attempt to seek refuge in other countries. Ensuring the sustainability of returns is, therefore, in the interests of the refugees themselves, the country of origin, as well as countries of asylum, be they in the immediate vicinity of the refugee-producing country or further afield.'

Amnesty International stresses that sufficient and effective reconstruction assistance must be made available to Afghanistan. An effective degree of security must be provided in the whole of the country and national institutions of justice, policing and social reform must be able to operate in a rights-respecting manner throughout the country.

Lesley Warner concluded:

'Only when these conditions are fulfilled will it be possible for refugees to return to their places of origin in a way that is truly voluntary and sustainable.'

The full report is available online at: http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa110142003

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