Press release from the Afghan Refugee Committee in Norway

July 17th, 2007

– Refugees sent to Taliban areas

– Many of the Afghan refugees who have been forcibly returned come from areas which are terrorised by local warlords, and that are now also being attacked by the Taliban. The local representatives of the UNHCR in Kabul have confirmed that these are unsafe areas which are impossible to go to, says Zahir Athari, spokesperson for the Afghan Refugee Committee in Norway.
Wednesday it was decided by a Grand Committee of Immigration Appeals Board  that two refugees who come from unsafe areas in Afghanistan are allowed to stay in Norway. The reason given is that it is too dangerous to return refugees to other areas of Afghanistan where they have no family network. At the same time, the director of the Immigration Appeals Board, Terje Sjeggestad, emphasised  that the decision would not have had any bearing on the cases of refugees that have already been returned. The reason being that these refugees come from safe areas, and that their return to Afghanistan is conditioned on their repatriation in their district of origin.

– UNHCR says area unsafe

Four representatives for the refugees who participated in the Asylum March met with a local representative of the UNHCR in Kabul on Sunday July 8.

– We also think that this area is unsafe. But this is not our decistion. It is a Afghan governmental team report and decides what are safe and unsafe areas. And then we recongnise it, the UNHCR representative told the refugees.

– These have to be sensational information for the Norwegian public in light of the fact that Norwegian authorities have always emphasised that they follow the advices of the UNHCR. Now we have confirmation of what we have always suspected, that the advices that the Norwegian authorities really base their decisions on, is in reality provided by the Afghan government which is full of war criminals with a need to portray themselves and their government in a favourable light, emphasises Zahir Athari.

Warlord rule

In the Jaghori district, where the majority belong to the Hazara people, warlords attached to the Shia Islamist Hezb-e-Wahdat (Khalili) have been ruling in their own favour since the US invasion in 2001.

The leader of Hezb-e-Wahdat (Khalili) is the present vice president of Afghanistan, Mohammed Karim Khalili. During the civil war in the 1990s, Khalili and his party and militia, supported by the Iranian regime, were responsible for a number of massacres and mass rapes1. The militia of Hezb-e-Wahdat (Khalili) was part of the so called Northern Alliance which regained its position of power with the US invasion in 2001, and the militia and its commanders today control most of the Hazara majority areas of central Afghanistan.

Among the Human Rights violations, reported by the UNHCR, committed by the Wahdat commanders in Jaghori and surrounding districts after 2001, are false arrests and  violence committed against perceived opponents, but also against anyone perceived as being in possetion of money. The motive for arrests in such cases is to extort money for bribes to let the arrested person go free. This is making the situation particularly dangerous for forcibly returned refugees from the West, who might be expected to bring some money from their stay in “The Rich North”.

Substantial violations of Human Rights have also been documented from several other reports.  The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  – 2006 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor of the US Stated Deportment March 6, 2007 documents pervasive torture and murders being committed in the private prisons run by the government loyalist warlords. Among these are Khudadad Irfani and the police chief of Ghazni province Bashi Habib4, who control Jaghori and the neighbouring districts.

Practically all Afghan refugees in Norway have fled persecution from the same warlords who run the same areas today, and are known by these warlords. They are therefor perceived as opponents against their rule, and will be treated as such if they are returned to their home areas today.

Killings and kidnappings

Ghazni is one of the provinces where the Taliban control vast areas and are most heavily engaged in offensive operations5. The security situation in Jaghori has severely worsened the last year as the Taliban have renewed their attacks in the districts from their base areas in the surrounding Pashtun majority districts. The last weeks douzens of people in have been rapported killed in the small district of Jaghorin alone.

On May 12 the Pajhwok Afghan News reported that the Taliban stormed a police check-post in Angori area of Jaghori. Local militia official Muhammad Kazim Ebadi said six policemen were killed in the attack while 10 and three security personnel were taken hostage by the assailants. Ghaznis Deputy Governor Kazim Allahyar and police chief Ahmadzai confirmed the confirmed the Jaghori incident, but had no details6.

On June 2, The BBC, the Australian News and several other news outlets reported that the wife, two sons and two nephews of police chief Bashi Habib were killed by the Taliban in an attack on their home in Jaghori. The police also reported killing 10 Taliban in an ensuing clash in the district7.

On July 4, the Dari website reported on another Taliban attack in Jaghori, this time on the village of Hotqol. Several villagers were killed. 

According to sources in the areas, the Taliban took hostage 150 Hazara from Jaghori a few days ago. It is also reported that the Taliban have lined up huge forces along the border of the Wahdat controlled Jaghori.  The fear is that the Sunni Islamist Extremists in the Taliban within the next few days or weeks will launche an all out attack on what they perceive to be the unbelieving Shia of Jaghori. It is reported that access roads to the area are blocked and that nobody at the moment can move in or out of Jaghori.

Persecuted in Kabul

– Before they contacted the UNHCR on Sunday, the refugees who have been forcibly returned to Kabul asked the Norwegian Refugee Council and the IOM if they would receive help and protection in returning to their areas of origin. The however declined to offer any help on the grounds that traveling to this area is dangerous or even impossible, tells Zahir Athari.

The refugees are therefore in reality left to provide for themselves as internal refugees in Kabul, precisely the situation that the Grand Committee of the Immigration Appeals Board has decided to be too dangerous. The situation is particularly dangerous for the refugees who have recently been sent back from Norway because of the attention created among Afghans by the Asylum March, and their perceived conversion to Christianity, a mortal crime according the Afghan Sha’rya law. The refugees therefore stay indoor at the guarded IOM center in Kabul practically all the time. However they are only allowed to stay on this compound a few more days before they are put on the street.

– Wednesday a few of the refugees went out for a short walk outside the IOM building. They were stopped on the street by some men who asked them why they didn’t have Afghan clothes. They told that they had just come back from abroad, and that they hadn’t yet had time to aquire Afghan clothes. They then asked them if they were Norwegian, and when they confirmed this, they attacked the refugees. One of them was beaten so severely that he had to be brought to hospital and he still hasn’t regained his hearing on one ear, tells Athari

He further tells that the refugees were visited Friday by a friend who lives in Kabul. After the friend had visited the refugees, he was followed by a representative of the secret police back to his office and questioned about why he had visited the refugees, from where he knew them and what he had talked to them about.

– It is obvious that people in Kabul know about the Asylum March and that these refugees are in grave danger. Norwegian authorities now has to see to bring them back to Norway as soon as possible, and before they are thrown out of the guarded IOM center, says Zahir Athari.

The media doesn’t report

Athari aknowledges that so far it hasn’t been possible to get the media to focus on the real situation in Afghanistan even though this has been a stated aim for the Asylum March.

– The media hasn’t been interested in linking the march to what is happening in Afghanistan. At the same time, it is a problem for the media that the situation in many areas of Afghanistan is so dangerous that no international media are present repporting what is happening, he explains.

Demands new public security evalution

Norwegian immigration authorities have underlined the fact that they put decisive emphasis on the official UNHCR list of supposed safe and unsafe areas when determining which areas are safe enough to return refugees to.

-  The Kabul representatives of both the Norwegian Refugee Council, the IOM and the UNHCR evaluates at least one of the areas which is presently not on the official UNHCR list of safe areas to be in reality unsafe. There is all reason to believe that this is the case for many other districts as well. We therefore demand a comlete new security assessment for all those areas which are presently consered safe enough for returning refugees, says Zahir Athari. He further demands that new assessments of the security situation in different areas are being made public.

Athari suspects the real reason the government refuses to put foreward the documentation they claim to have to prove that the situation in these areas is safe, is that the conclusion in reality rests on an extremely fragile basis.

– We have strong reason to believe that the absence of a certain area on the official UNHCR list of unsafe areas is in reality the only basis the immigration authorities have to declare an area as safe. Nobody has been able to put foreward information of any kind to prove that for example Jaghori is a safe discrtict, while there is plenty of publicly accessable documentation to prove the opposite conclusion, says Zahir Athari.

He sees it as a minimum demand that the public be informed about what kind of conditions the Norwegian immigration authorities view as sufficiently safe for return of refugees. He hopes the Norwegian politicians will now be able to stand up and demand that all further deportations of Afghan refugees be stopped pending a new secutity evalution of all parts of Afghanistan.

Politicians to Jaghori?

– An alternative could be that the policians and  bureaucrats who claim that Jaghori is safe, go there themselves to investigate the conditions, says Athari. He is however quite sure that this will not happen. He expect that the fear of being attacked by the Taliban soldiers roaming the area would be much too great among Norwegian decision makers.

  • Believe it or not, but we Afghans also wish to live, says Zahir Athari.

Villagers killed in the last Taliben attacck in Jaghori on July 4 2007.

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