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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Australia cancels 50 asylum visas
Afghan asylum seeker Ali  Bakhtiyari, second from left, marches with his supporters in Sydney
The government's refugee policy has led to protests
Australia has cancelled the protection visas of 50 Afghan asylum seekers and says there is evidence that some of them are from Pakistan.

The Australian immigration department said the move followed a review of 300 asylum applicants after "community information" prompted government suspicions.


We have now obtained sufficient information to move to cancel something in the order of 50 visas

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
The review began earlier this year, but it is now in the spotlight because of a case last week involving the father of two boys who were denied asylum by the British consulate in Melbourne.

The father, Ali Bakhtiyari, who claims to be an Afghan refugee but who is said by Australian authorities to have come from Pakistan, is thought to be one of the 50 who now face expulsion.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said at least 20 applicants were Pakistanis posing as Afghans.

He said others, who were Afghans, had been living in Pakistan and were ineligible for asylum.

The Australian Prime Minister John Howard has won local support for his tightening of the country's asylum policy, despite concerns from human rights groups.

All new arrivals are now kept in camps until their cases are judged.

About 9,000 protection visas have been issued to those thought to be genuine refugees.

'Wrong accents'

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that "community information" throwing into doubt the nationality of many on temporary protection visas sparked a government investigation, which began earlier this year.

"Some 300 people have been the subject of community information, and when we have sought to verify that, we have now obtained sufficient information to move to cancel something in the order of 50 visas," Mr Ruddock said.

But activist groups in Australia said the move was alarming:

"The government is either admitting it has a flawed (refugee tribunal) system and the whole thing should be reviewed, or it is a convenience to try and cover the fact they are getting decisions they don't like," refugee advocate Ian Rintoul told Reuters news agency.

A spokesman for Mr Ruddock said the evidence against the 50 asylum seekers who have had their visas cancelled was compiled during a screening process.

He said some of the Pashtun speakers had Pakistani rather than Afghan accents and had surprisingly little knowledge of the place in which they claimed to have lived.

Mr Bakhtiyari and his two sons had claimed to be members of Afghanistan's persecuted Hazara minority.

But Mr Ruddock's spokesman argued on Monday: "There's very large Hazara populations in Pakistan and have been for many years."


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