Afghan refugee sues Australian government, saying detention prevents him saving his family from Taliban

Exclusive: the Afghan man aided coalition forces and fears his family is in grave danger after his brother was killed last year

An Afghan refugee and former member of a government security agency who assisted coalition forces, has taken the Australian government to court seeking to be released after eight years in detention so he can organise to get his family out of a collapsing Afghanistan.

Anonymised in court documents with a pseudonym beginning with F, the man arrived in Australia by boat in 2013 having fled the Taliban who had attacked him, thrown grenades into his house, and sent repeated warning letters he would be killed because of his work for the government of Afghanistan.

More than 10 members of his immediate and extended family have been killed by the Taliban.

His wife and children remain in Afghanistan, but are trying to find a way out, as a resurgent Taliban advances across the country.

In an email sent to his case manager in the department of home affairs from a Melbourne hotel detention centre where he is currently held, F pleaded to be allowed to help his family amid Afghanistan’s collapsing security.

“Every day Afghanistan is getting worse. My family is in a dangerous place and I need help now please. If you wait I will lose my family. Why do you wait? The Taliban want to kill my family,” the email, read in open court, says.

“You need to find some way to move them please because I don’t want them to die. It is enough that you have kept me in detention for eight years for no reason.”

F, a member of an ethnic minority, was recruited to a government security agency aged 17, and worked as a driver and scout for a regionalgovernment official. He worked alongside US forces, and included in his government file are certificates recognising his service issued by the US military.

“I was helping the coalition forces fighting in Afghanistan,” he said in an interview. “I captured Taliban fighters and jailed them. But when these people got out of jail, they tried to kill me and were shooting at my house with rocket-propelled grenades.”

He said he left his house to live in another city in Afghanistan, but it remained too dangerous.

“Now, my wife and children are in grave danger because of my service to the coalition,” he said, “but still the government keeps me in this detention.”

“This prevents me from even moving my family out of Afghanistan to a safe country to save them from the Taliban … This is impossible for me now because the Australian government keeps me in detention still, after eight years. I can’t help my family. The nature of my detention prevents me from doing anything to help my family.”

Having arrived in Australia by boat in 2013, F was sent to Manus Island for offshore processing. His claim for protection was formally recognised in January 2015, government documents show.

F was held in PNG for six years, before being moved to Australia in July 2019 – under the short-lived medevac laws – for medical treatment. Doctors reports state that he has been suffering chronic headaches and migraines – related to stress – as well as depression, high blood pressure and post-traumatic stress. He has been detained in Australia for more than two years.

“I am still sick,” he said from detention in Melbourne, where he is currently held. “I need help but there is no help in detention.”

F has repeatedly formally requested to be returned to PNG, where, outside of the confines of detention, he could apply to be reunited with his family, work to raise money for their escape from Afghanistan, or approach the US embassy about evacuation for his family members.

The US government announced on Monday it was preparing to fly about 2,500 Afghans who had assisted the US military effort, and their family members, to military bases on US soil.

With the withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban is violently resurgent across the country, recapturing control of dozens of districts and cities.

Thousands of government troops have surrendered or defected – handing over their arms to the Taliban – or have fled across Afghanistan’s borders to neighbouring countries.

In numerous requests to Serco (managers of the detention centre), the Australian Border Force, and his case manager within the department of home affairs, F has requested to be sent back to PNG.

“I have been in detention for 18 months. I come for medical treatment. My problems are not fixed. IHMS doctors say that my headaches cannot be cured in detention because of stress.

“I have done nothing wrong. I am not a criminal, I should not be in jail. If I cannot move to the community, then send me back to Manus.”

Documents before the federal court argue F’s family members are at acute risk of Taliban violence because of their relation to him. Australia’s ongoing detention of F has prevented him from trying to assist them out of the country, his statement of claim says.

“The applicant’s family are at extreme risk in Afghanistan due to the risk of imminent fall of the country to the Taliban.”

F’s lawyer, Daniel Taylor, told the federal court on Wednesday: “This is about Australia’s duty of care, to a refugee, to a refugee family of a high-profile person of extreme risk of harm in Afghanistan, who has come to Australia seeking protection.

“They will die because the minister did not return the applicant to Papua New Guinea when he requested he do so.”

The commonwealth has sought to have F’s application summarily dismissed, arguing the application was fundamentally flawed and that the Australian government did not have a legal obligation towards Afghan citizens in Kabul who had not made a claim for protection in Australia.

The case, before Justice Tom Thawley, returns to court Friday.

This story was amended on 21 August 2021 to remove potentially identifying details to protect F’s family after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.


Ben Doherty

The GuardianTramp

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