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Australia has a responsibility to Afghan refugees

Women and children on a street in Kabul in 2010.
Minorities in Kabul are at high risk. Photo: Barat Batoor, ASRC, in 2010

THE Australian government’s response to the escalating refugee crisis in Afghanistan has been grossly inadequate, argues the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Thousands of Afghans are currently at risk following the Taliban’s takeover of the capital and last remaining stronghold, Kabul.

Women, journalists, human rights activists, and ethnic and religious minorities are among those fearing for their lives as the Taliban take control of the country.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded that the Australian government would not be able to help all those who had assisted Australian troops.

“I know that support won’t reach all that it should,” Morrison said.

 He was referring to his government’s plan to evacuate around 600 Australian citizens, family members, and locally engaged employees from Kabul.

“On the ground events have overtaken many efforts, he said.

“We wish it were different.”

Minority communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, and Hazaras were already experiencing attacks even before the withdrawal of US and NATO troops.

These incidents have only intensified, with targeted killings and bomb blasts in Hazara communities.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), a human rights organisation for people seeking asylum in Australia, is calling for a substantial resettlement plan that covers all those at risk of violence and death from the Taliban, not just those who have assisted military interests.

ASRC organiser Barat Batoor said this meant that many in Australia’s large Hazara population have close relatives in danger.

“There are thousands of people in the Australian community who have family members at grave risk right now from the Taliban,” Batoor said.

“We need to know what the Australian government is doing alongside the international community to protect people in this emergency.

“As an Australian-Hazara, I call on the Australian government to respond to this international humanitarian crisis urgently with a clear plan to evacuate and protect as many people as possible, especially those most at risk from the harm of the Taliban.”

The Australian government, in 2015, provided an additional 12,000 humanitarian visas to people fleeing Syria.

The ASRC maintains this precedent should be matched for those most at risk from the Taliban.

Canada has recently committed to taking in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees and the US is accelerating visa application processes, yet Australia has only provided 640 protection visas since 15 April.

ASRC’s director of advocacy and campaigns Jana Favero, said the organisation is calling for an increase in humanitarian visas on top of existing annual refugee intake commitments.

“Australia needs a transparent and effective plan for a substantial emergency intake of people at risk from the Taliban,” Favero said.

“The Morrison government has routinely cut Australia’s refugee intake, and in the most recent budget intake it was capped at only 13,750.

“Any increase in the humanitarian visas from Afghanistan must be additional and cannot be in lieu of annual commitments.”

On Tuesday, 17 August, the government announced a reprieve for Afghan nationals already in Australia.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke stated that no Afghans on visas would be asked to return to Afghanistan “while the security situation there remains dire.”

Despite this change, no commitment has been made for permanent protection through residency pathways.

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Sara Bolst

Sara is an award-winning writer working in the non-profit space, with nine years of experience connecting people with causes, values, and ways they can change the world. She holds a masters degree in creative writing and is passionate about environmental protection, social justice, and ethical storytelling.

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