Amnesty demands halt to forced repatriation of Afghans

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The Independent Online

Amnesty International demanded a halt last night to the forced repatriation of failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan, warning that they were being returned to danger and destitution.

Three Sikhs sent back to Kabul from Britain had to take refuge in a temple because they feared for their lives and had nowhere to live, the human rights organisation discovered.

In a further blow for the Home Office, an internal report said British policy on asylum could have boosted human trafficking. After the failure of a voluntary-returns scheme, the Home Office started a programme of compulsory returns in April. More than 50 Afghans have been flown back to Kabul, the capital, with another group due to fly out next week.

Amnesty said: "Such 'symbolic' returns ... will in most cases be detrimental to the long-term future of Afghanistan, to the safety and dignity of returning individuals, as well as protection of rights and needs of those wishing to remain in the country of asylum."

The organisation's report, published yesterday, said it had tracked down several of the first refugees transported against their will out of Britain.

Three Sikh men sought shelter in a temple in Kabul as they had nowhere else to go. They said they felt unsafe as they had faced racial abuse days after their return. Two were from Jalalabad in the east of the country and feared they had no relatives left in the city.

A man named Akim, a Pashtun from Jalalabad, said he had borrowed a substantial sum of money to pay for his escape and feared his creditors would demand their cash back. A fifth refugee, a Tajik called Abdul from the Panjshir region in the north, said he had nowhere to live because another family had moved into his house.

Another man, Moquim, said he was given 50 Afghani (less than £1) when he arrived at Kabul Airport. He told Amnesty he had no clothes or accommodation and could not return to his home town of Nangarhar "because of the factions".

Pia Oberoi, an Amnesty spokeswoman, said: "People told us their intention was to leave the country as quickly they can. We don't think Afghanistan is secure. There are vast movements of people and people are living lives of destitution because they can't go back to their areas of origin."

She also disputed government claims that people could be returned to Kabul, which was afflicted by poor housing, lack of school provision and clashes between rival groups.

"The security situation... has steadily deteriorated in 2003 and cannot be said to have fundamentally, durably and effectively changed. It is therefore unlikely that repatriation can be promoted in the foreseeable future," the organisation said.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We need, in order to have a credible and effective immigration policy, to be able to remove people who no longer have a right to be here." She said all asylum-seekers sent back were given help with training and jobs. She added that the human rights situation in the country was steadily improving.

The Home Office report released yesterday said there was little proof of the effectiveness of its asylum policies.

It said tough restrictions could have led to "growth in trafficking and illegal entry of both asylum-seekers and economic migrants". The study, which looked at policy over the past 10 years, said: "It was difficult to establish direct causal links between asylum policy initiatives and [the number of] asylum applications."