Morrison pressed over humanitarian intake of Afghan civilians

By Melissa Coade

Thursday August 19, 2021

Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Civil society is calling for the Australian government to adopt an emergency humanitarian intake plan for Afghan civilians looking to escape Taliban rule, pointing to recent arrangements to resettle 12,000 people at the height of the crisis in Syria.

Community advocacy groups, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) and the Refugee Council of Australia, have issued a plea to the federal government to allow more Afghan civilians into Australia.

ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said it was cruel and mean-spirited for Australia to rely on a mere 3,000 existing places to accommodate desperate Afghan civilians refugee status. 

“We are rich enough, prosperous enough, capable enough, and we are also responsible in part for what happened in Afghanistan,” Karapanagiotidis said.

Advocates want the Australian government to allow 20,000 extra Afghan people, prioritising those most at risk including interpreters, women and children, civilians from ethnic minorities including Hazaras, Sikhs and Hindus. 

Karapanagiotidis added that it was important to assist those who worked as human rights advocates and activists as they were being rounded up by the Taliban.

“The Taliban is a terrorist organisation. They cannot be trusted,” he said.

International community moves to respond to chaos of Taliban takeover

A swell of people have entered Afghanistan’s capital, attempting to escape at the Kabul international airport following the Taliban’s takeover on Monday. President Ashraf Ghani boarded a flight to flee the country the day before

Without any organised government in charge and panic spreading across the city, the fate of more than 38 million vulnerable civilians lies in the balance. 

Despite promises of peace and order, Taliban-incited violence has already erupted among the crush of people desperately trying to leave and there are reports that insurgents are burning people’s passports. 

Tragic video footage has also emerged on social media of what appear to be civilians who clung to the sides of foreign aircraft, falling from the sky.

Elsewhere in the country, video has been captured of civilians in Jalalabad showing a bold rejection of the symbol of the Taliban — taking down its flag to replace it with the Afghanistan national flag.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison held a press conference in Canberra on Wednesday to outline the first successful ADF evacuation of 26 Australian personal and Afghan visa holders. He also addressed the issue of Australia’s resettlement cap for Afghan civilians, confirming that 3,000 visas would be made available this year.

Morrison also went to pains to stress that Australia would reject any person who attempted to come to Australia by illegal means. 

“We will be supporting Afghans who have legitimate claims through our official and legitimate processes. We will not be providing that pathway to those who would seek or come any other way,” he said. 

Previously, Morrison said Australia has processed approximately 8,500 Afghans for settlement in Australia through the ‘official humanitarian program’.

“This ranges from about 1,300 [people processed] a year up to about 1,900 a year, and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. 

Other ally countries like the UK and Canada have committed to the humanitarian resettlement of significantly larger groups of Afghan civilians this week. 

UK home secretary Phil Patel said that along with international partners, the UK would help to resettle 20,000 refugees over five years, with 5,000 people eligible to move to the UK in the first year. A separate settlement scheme for Afghan interpreters who assisted British forces is anticipated to accept 5,000 by the end of 2021.

The Canadian government has established a special immigration program to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee Afghanistan. Its program is also open to Afghans who have already left the country across the border into neighbouring states. 

According to SBS News, the US, New Zealand and Europe have pledged to resettle refugees with more detail still to be announced

Official channels only, pm says to Afghans attempting to get to Australia

On Wednesday, Morrison dismissed those who wanted to compare Australia’s generosity to humanitarian resettlement by intake figure. However, he also hinted at the possibility of some scope to expand the cap due to the impact of COVID-19 on general net migration and refugee numbers in Australia.

“What we’re focused on is right here and right now,” the PM said.

“We believe, working with the local community here, reaching out to the UNHCR, and working through the channels that were so successful in bringing people out in other hazardous situations in the past, can establish the bonafides of individual applicants.”

“Australia, at the very least through our official channels, will be processing at least 3,000 [refugees] in the current financial year, and we believe more can be accommodated, potentially, within our existing arrangements,” he said. 

According to Karapanagiotidis, the Australian government is simply not doing enough. The ASRC claim Morrison’s response is ‘grossly inadequate, lagging and secretive’ compared with other nations.

At a minimum, the group is demanding more transparency about the government’s resettlement decisions

“Australia is home to the fourth-largest Hazara population in the world. There are thousands of people in the Australian community who have family members at grave risk right now from the Taliban,” Australian- Hazara and ASRC organiser Barat Batoor said. 

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

SBS News reported that on Wednesday morning man waiting to board one of Australia’s evacuation flights was shot in the leg by a Taliban member manning a Kabul airport gate checkpoint. The unidentified interpreter for the Australian Army was taken to hospital where he was treated but did not catch the ADF’s first evacuation flight out of Kabul.

Not only does the ASRC want the government to revise its cap by about seven times its 3,000, it has also called for the permanent protection of all temporary visa holders, and prioritising the resettlement of refugees with family members already living in Australia.

“It is shameful that Scott Morrison has done nothing but give empty words the Australian-Afghan community who are hurting,” Karapanagiotidis said

“The Afghan people were there keeping our diggers alive and safe. [The government] were warned back in May to start evacuating such people, and now they’re saying it’s too late because of their own incompetence,” he said. 

Australia announced that it would temporarily shut its embassy in Kabul from 28 May, 2021, at the time declaring that the government remained ‘committed to supporting a just, durable and resilient arrangement that is led and owned’ by locals and that would bring ‘stability and prosperity to the Afghan people’.

That government has now dissolved and the Taliban are in charge.

Australia’s formal troop withdrawal from the country, after an almost 20-year involvement in the country occurred on July 1, but military sources told the ABC that remaining ADF members had left Kabul in mid-June. Almost AUD$10 billion has been spent on Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan and 41 ADF personnel have died on operations in the country. 

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