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The Kaldor Centre’s Professor Guy S. Goodwin-Gill was interviewed 18 August 2021 on the Singapore-based international news channel Channel NewsAsia, about the crisis in Afghanistan and its impact on refugees.  

Journalist: 

For more on this issue, I'm joined by Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill from the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales. Professor, thank you very much for joining me. So let's look at the situation here. So for Afghans who actually managed to leave the country in one way or another, where can they seek refuge? 

Prof. Guy S Goodwin-Gill: 

Basically, in any country willing to admit them; it's very much up to them to choose where to go and where to apply for asylum. That's assuming they're not on recognized evacuation flights, which is another issue. But basically, they are free to go anywhere and seek asylum from persecution. And if they get it, not to be refouled, not to be sent back to where they might be at risk.

Journalist: 

So how does that impact other refugee camps elsewhere?

Prof. Guy S Goodwin-Gill:

Well, again, it depends. I mean, most refugee camps with Afghans have been in Iran and in Pakistan, traditionally; they have been running down to some extent, because many Afghans are repatriated. So, there could be an impact an impact there, certainly. Otherwise, they will, obviously have an impact wherever they go, depending on the numbers – we can't tell, at this present stage, just how many will leave. We don't know, in fact, whether there will be an exodus as has been predicted. 

Journalist:

So, can countries then pick and choose who they want to give refuge to, you know, understanding from what we've just mentioned here about India, taking in only the Sikhs and not the Muslims?

Prof. Guy S Goodwin-Gill:

Yes, in principle, that is, is something that countries are discouraged from doing; they ought not to discriminate on grounds of religion in particular. But some do, and India, in fact, has a well-known policy now of discriminating against those who are not Hindu or Sikh, when taking in people, whether it's migrants or refugees. In principle, no one who is a refugee should be treated otherwise than as a refugee, as someone in need of protection. Now, that doesn't mean to say they may not go on somewhere else later, to a more hospitable state [but] in principle that no one should be ... refused admission if they are a refugee in fear of persecution.

Journalist:

But can they then grant refugee status to those that they deem are really in need – for instance, women who we know that the Taliban has discriminated against on children, those who have worked with the US or the European Union, or even the UN, can they then cherry-pick those.

Prof. Guy S Goodwin-Gill:

Well, that again, raises a difficult question. After Vietnam, the US accepted more than 150,000 of those who have been closely associated with them and then, in years following, took many hundreds of thousands more. Now, yes, a country can discriminate in the sense that it can choose who to resettle. That's to say, for example, it can go into a refugee camp, and it can choose those whom it deems to be more likely to settle in its country. And it’s therefore distinguished against those who may be considered not to be so easily resettable, because of language or difficulties or disability difficulties or illness difficulties. So that's where the discrimination sets in – at the point of resettlement.

Otherwise, though, if you're a refugee seeking asylum, you should be admitted without discrimination, at least temporarily, and granted refuge – granted protection against being sent back to where you've been your life as a risk. Thereafter, it gets up in the air to some extent, and you may be subject to choices which the state of resettlement adopts in the pursuit of its particular policy. Women and children risk have been highlighted, for example, by the UK, because they have been traditionally at risk and the UN and foreign governments have done a lot to support the cause of refugee women and children in Afghanistan. So what is it right to discriminate in their favour? Certainly, yes, it can be because they will be, once they flee the country, of particular risk of harm.

Journalist:

Okay, Professor, so for those who eventually then managed to get asylum granted there in the new country, what are the major challenges for them, or in fact, ensuring safe passage out of Afghanistan, then?

Prof. Guy S Goodwin-Gill: Yes, so that raises the other question of how do you do that? How do you successfully evacuate people who are actually not refugees yet, but will be once they leave the country? And in practice that can only be done with a measure of tacit or express permission on the part of the government in power, in this case, the Taliban. The Taliban effectively has to agree to let people go to become refugees to be resettled in other countries; whether it will do so or not remains to be seen. But that's the only way it can happen.

Journalist: Thank you so much, Professor, for speaking to us indeed a long road ahead for those who are trying to seek asylum Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill from the University of New South Wales.

 Image © UNHCR/Edris Lutfi

The Kaldor Centre plays a vital role in developing legal, sustainable and humane solutions for displaced people around the world.