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    Afghans facing harder time getting into Australia

    KABUL (PAN): Afghans seeking asylum in Australia have found it increasingly difficult since the country suspended processing applications and tightened restrictions.

    Afghans who want to get into Australia illegally first travel to Indonesia and then take a boat across the Timor Sea. But since April, Australia had suspended processing any applications causing a bottleneck in immigration detention centres. It lifted the ban earlier this month, but warned that because security had improved in Afghanistan, the chances of Afghans being accepted had been cut in half.

    Ahmad Samir, 34, was arrested by Indonesian police while trying to get to Australia three months ago. He never even got on a boat but spent 45 days in jail before being deported back to Afghanistan.

    He said the smuggling route was very hard. They paid a lot of money to the smugglers for a journey that put their lives at risk.

    "Smugglers keep people on a boat for about 41 hours and the seas are rough and there are often wild storms," he said.

    Seven months ago, eight people from southern Ghazni province died when their old boat capsized in the ocean off Indonesia.

    Samir said that he could not go back to Bamyan, his home province, because he owed a lot of money.

    "I borrowed money from my friends and relatives, telling them that I will repay them as soon as I reach Australia. So now that I have been deported, if they see me they will ask me to repay them," he said.

    Samir said it was the lack of job opportunities n Afghanistan that forced him to try his luck with the smuggling route.

    Muhammad, another resident of Bamyan, and a friend of Samir’s said that he too was stopped in Indonesia and did not have a good experience.

    "The Indonesian police mistreated us, they were not feeding us well," he said.  Muhammad also said he could not go home because he would not be able to repay his debtors.

    An Australian research centre said that 2,184 Afghans had been detained in September, and were being kept in the Christmas Island detention centre. There are also Afghans in the centre who have been waiting for two years for their refugee applications to be processed.

    The centre said the likelihood of Afghans being accepted as refugees had decreased from 99 percent to 25 percent.

    Australian immigration and citizenship officials said all refugee applications would be investigated and considered based on the current reality in Afghanistan.

    Australia’s migration minister has also warned that the possibility of Afghans being accepted as refugees had reduced.

    Brendan O'Connor, the Home Affairs Minister, said most illegal immigrants coming nto the country were Afghans. He said it was likely about half of those currently in detention centres in Australia would be accepted, while the rest would be deported.

    As the Afghan Ministry of Refugees has no representative in Australia, the exact number of Afghans waiting in detention centres is unknown.

    However, the ministry’s spokesman, Muhammad Zahir Faqiri, said there were up to 2,500 Afghans in the Christmas Island detention centre alone.

    The Refugees Minister Jamahir Anwari said that Afghan authorities planned to go to Australia to discuss the issue.

    About 30,000 Afghans live in Australia, more than half of whom were born there.