Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison’s plan to send Afghan asylum seekers — who arrive  in boats — back to camps in countries such as Pakistan and Iran is doomed to fail, say asylum seeker advocates.

Speaking at the Lowy Institute yesterday, Morrison outlined the Coalition’s proposal for a regional approach to asylum seekers, which would centre around countries of first asylum.

In a proposal that differs from the federal government’s South-East Asia framework, Morrison said that a Coalition government would look to send Afghan asylum seekers who arrive by boat back to countries such as  Pakistan and Iran. In return, a Coalition government would “trade off” with countries who accepted the deal by increasing the number of Afghan asylum seekers accepted by Australia.

“When considering where support should be given to establishing processing centres and support for countries of first asylum, that is where our focus should be — Indonesia and East Timor are half a world away,” he said. “The Prime Minister is right about the need for a regional solution — the problem is she’s talking about the wrong region.”

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says that the chances of the Iranian or Pakistan governments accepting asylum seekers back from Australia were “zilch”.

“Mr Morrison doesn’t seem to understand that the reason the Hazara are coming to Australia is that they have already been expelled from Pakistan and Iran, which were their placers of first resort, when they weren’t safe in Afghanistan,” Curr told Crikey. “Why would they agree to accept Hazara refugees back when they have been pushing them out of both their countries over the last couple of years?”

According to the UNHCR, Iran currently recognises almost a million Afghan refugees. In 2008, Iran said it intended to expel 1.5 million Afghans it considered to be illegally in the country.

In May, the BBC reported that between 4000 and 5000 Afghans had been arrested by Iranian authorities, with hundreds are reported to be on death row. In Pakistan there are more than 1.5 million Afghan refugees or “people in refugee-like situations”, while there have been orders to expel Afghan refugees in the past.

Ian Rintoul, from Refugee Action Coalition, says that the idea of sending asylum seekers to a regional centre in Central Asia is “completely unworkable”.

“The whole thing is just a bizarre proposition, that people are going to be sent back to places where they are already being persecuted,” Rintoul told Crikey. “I think it just shows how much the opposition are completely out of touch are just mired in the punitive policies of the Howard era.”

The federal government have also criticised the plan. In a statement released yesterday, immigration minister Chris Bowen called Morrison’s proposal a “thought bubble” that was “without detail”.

“Which countries would the Coalition seek to establish other safe places in? Or is he simply referring to the refugee camps already in existence? How would he effect returns to these places?”

Last year, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship handed out 13,770 protection visas. According to DIAC figures, 1514 Afghans were granted final protection visas, a final grant rate of 99.7%. A DIAC spokesperson told Crikey that, up to the middle of last month, there had been 2740 Afghan offshore arrivals so far this year.

In the speech, Morrison also called for the return of temporary protection visas, the reopening of the Nauru offshore processing centre and a tightening the appeals system to “end the process of taxpayer funding for endless appeals”.

Peter Fray

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