Australia will for the first time forcibly deport an Afghan asylum seeker whose application for protection was rejected, the government said Tuesday.
Refugee advocates have condemned the decision, saying those deported face persecution.
Ismail Mirza Jan is to be deported Saturday from Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Center to Afghanistan under a new agreement with Kabul, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement. Jan had argued that as an ethnic Hazara, he faced death at home, but Australian immigration authorities have determined that he could return to Afghanistan safely.
Afghanistan is the main source of a growing number of asylum seekers who travel to Australia by boat, adding political pressure on the Australian government to deter new arrivals.
It is not clear how many other Afghan asylum seekers Australia could force to return home. But at the end of June, 1,055 Afghans were in Australian detention centers fighting decisions that deny them refugee visas.
Bowen said an agreement reached with Kabul in January stipulates that Afghanistan will readmit any national not entitled to Australian protection. Afghanistan has previously refused to accept Afghans who would not return voluntarily.
"It's a fundamental part of our immigration system that if people are found not to be genuine refugees, that they should be removed," Bowen said.
Jan left Afghanistan as a teenager and said he no longer has family there. He told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that he would die if sent to Kabul.
"I told immigration, 'It's OK _ if you send me, you can send my dead body to my country because either way, I am dead,'" the 27-year-old told ABC in an interview broadcast late Monday.
The Hazara were persecuted when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, but their standing has improved since the war began. Many are active in the business world and several hold government positions, including one of Afghanistan's vice presidents.
Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said Jan flew into Australia last year on a fake Turkish passport and failed to tell Australian authorities that Britain and Ireland had previously rejected his asylum claims.
Australia did not reject his claims due to dishonesty but because authorities did not believe he would be persecuted in Afghanistan, Rintoul said.
"His deportation sets a dangerous precedent and we're hoping that Afghanistan won't accept him," Rintoul said.
The Australian government won't release details of Jan's case, citing privacy concerns.
Afghan Ambassador to Australia Nasir Ahmad Andisha declined to comment Tuesday.
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commissioner Mohammad Farid Hamidi urged the Australian government to review Jan's case.
"The situation in Afghanistan is not good enough," Hamidi told ABC. "The security is getting worse day by day."
Phil Glendenning, director of Sydney-based human rights group Edmund Rice Center, said his research found that at least 11 failed asylum seekers who returned voluntarily to Afghanistan from Australia in the past seven years were killed, including some Hazaras. He suspected the true figure was higher.
"We have very serious concerns about the safety of Hazaras in Afghanistan," Glendenning said. "I think it's deteriorating."