UNHCR welcomes lifting on refugee freeze in Australia

15:18, October 02, 2010      

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The United Nations refugee agency on Saturday welcomed the Australian Federal Government's decision to lift a freeze on the processing of Afghan asylum seeker claims.

The federal government on Thursday announced it will immediately lift a freeze on the processing of claims from Afghanistan asylum seekers.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative, Richard Towle, said the longer people stay in mandatory detention, the harder it gets for them, adding that the UNHCR has a long standing objection to mandatory detention and that regular processing must be conducted.

"We think now is the time to start a regular processing and assessment of people who have made claims for refugee protection in this country," Towle told ABC News on Saturday.

"What I would say is that this group of people have been in quite difficult detention facilities without any idea really of when their cases were going to be looked at that. And that is difficult."

Towle said suspensions slow the processing system down, but that they are particularly problematic at a human level.

"People in this country have been held in detention. Now mandatory detention for long periods is shown to be extremely damaging to psycho-social and other forms of health," he said.

He said it is misleading to say that conditions are improving in Afghanistan and that parts of the country are extraordinarily dangerous.

"What we need to do when we do the assessments of these cases, we have at our disposal the most up to date and the most accurate country information so that we can assess whether the person whose claim is being assessed is in need of international refugee protection," he said.

"So I think it's a bit misleading to say that conditions are improving in Afghanistan. Clearly they are fluid, complex, and in some parts of the country, extraordinarily dangerous."

Also, Towle said the UNHCR is in currently reviewing its assessment of conditions in Afghanistan. The latest guidelines were released in July 2009.

"It's very important but our guidelines are for global use, not just for Australia. There are many countries around the world that have Afghan claims and the purpose is to provide a set of guidance that is useful for everybody," Towle said.

The six-month freeze on processing, which has been blamed in part for overcrowding in Australia's detention centers, was imposed by the government in April and was due to expire in early October. Enditem

Source: Xinhua


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