Australia Must Re-Think its Policy of Resettling Asylum Seekers in PNG

Afghan Refugee, 2009.

A prominent Afghan politician has warned that female asylum seekers will be at risk of further violence and sexual abuse if they are sent to Papua New Guinea.

Shukria Barakzai, the president of Afghanistan's parliamentary defence committee and founder of the nation's women's caucus, said Australia must re-think its policy of resettling asylum seekers in PNG.

She said many Afghan women had already experienced violence in their homeland, and warned that any decision to follow through in sending refugees to PNG could damage Australia's international reputation.

"I understand that it is dangerous for the people who are travelling far away from Asia to Australia. But, in the meantime, I believe Papua New Guinea is not the right place for them," she said.

Ms Barakzai said women and children should be exempted from being resettled in PNG, saying there were not enough facilities or safeguards to protect them.

"It's a big concern about psychology, it's a big concern security-wise, it's a big concern violence-wise, particularly against women and children," she said.

Ms Barakzai said female Afghan asylum seekers could find themselves caught between Afghanistan and PNG, two of the most dangerous countries in the world for women.

Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières has established clinics in PNG to address the widespread sexual and domestic violence, which it has described as an "epidemic" and a "humanitarian crisis".

The group has estimated that 70 per cent of PNG women will be raped or assaulted in their lifetime, mirroring the levels of violence found during times of war or civil unrest.

Ms Barakzai has survived several assassination attempts by the Taliban and continues to campaign for women's rights.

She also knows first-hand what it is like to experience violence and discrimination, having been beaten in public during the Taliban era.

In 2004, her husband married a second wife without telling her, and decided to run for a seat in parliament.

Ms Barakzai ran against him, and won.

She will be a candidate in next year's presidential election in Afghanistan, despite ongoing death threats from the Taliban.


PN Member Shukria Barakzai was appointed member of loya jirga, a representative body convened to discuss the Constitution of Afghanistan, in 2003, and has been Member of the National Assembly of Afghanistan since 2005.


Originally published on ABC News.

Photo by Bruno Leyval.

Read stories from: