ACT News


Boat people warning over Afghan aid cuts

AFGHANISTAN'S ambassador to Australia says cutting aid to his country may result in more asylum seekers trying to come to Australia by boat.

The ambassador, Nasir Andisha, who says more than 100 Afghans have drowned at sea on the treacherous journey while he has been in Australia, said he was concerned that cutbacks to the aid budget to Afghanistan would break an Australian government promise made in 2012.

Then prime minister Julia Gillard pledged aid commitment would rise from $165 million a year to $250 million by 2015-16 but Mr Andisha said that pledge was now uncertain because of a review of the aid budget by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Department of Foreign Affairs figures show $152.3 million in aid will be given to Afghanistan this financial year compared with $182.8 million in the previous financial year.

The government has said it wants to cut $71 million from south and west Asia aid, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

While the ambassador said cutting aid might prompt more refugees to head for Australia, he also said the language used to describe asylum seekers was too aggressive.


''In private we [have] said, 'You understand and we understand it's a humanitarian issue.''' he said.

''It should be looked at more broadly than something that should be 'deterred' - which is military jargon.

''It's not a security issue and shouldn't be dealt with from that view. This is the stick and at the same time there should be carrots.''

He said refugees waiting in Iran, Pakistan and India needed to have some hope they could get to Australia after approaching the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Australian diplomatic missions, otherwise they would risk the boat journey, particularly if family members were already in Australia.

He said Afghans who deserved to be able to come to Australia to be reunited with family had died on boat journeys here.

Mr Andisha said he had a healthy relationship with Australian government representatives even after tense moments when Australian soldiers were killed by Afghan army troops.

He hopes the Afghanistan cricket team, which will play in Australia - including in Canberra - will be an important tool in diplomatic relations early next year.

''It's my own turf - we have to make sure they win,'' he said before adding: ''The journey [the Afghan team] has taken in 10 years, some nations would take 50 years.''