Private sector steps up humanitarian support for Afghan refugees

By Melissa Coade

August 25, 2021

Airbnb has committed to providing temporary housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees at a free or discounted rate.
Airbnb has committed to providing temporary housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees at a free or discounted rate. (wusuowei/Adobe)

The charitable arm of Airbnb has committed to providing temporary housing for 20,000 Afghan refugees at a free or discounted rate with the company footing the rest of the bill.

Airbnb’s co-founder and chief executive, Brian Chesky, will also be personally contributing to the program’s operational costs .

Chesky said the scheme would not be possible without the generosity of Airbnnb hosts.

“If you’re willing to host a refugee family, reach out and I’ll connect you with the right people here to make it happen,” he said.

“The displacement and resettlement of Afghan refugees in the US and elsewhere is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our time. We feel a responsibility to step up. I hope this inspires other business leaders to do the same. There’s no time to waste.”

Refugees will be invited to stay in properties listed on Airbnb’s website.

Details on which countries the program will run, and for how long the support will be available, are still to be finalised but the company said that it would work with resettlement agencies and partners “to go where the need goes, and evolve this initiative and our support as necessary”. 

Last week Airbnb and its charitable arm provided emergency funding and support to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), HIAS and Church World Service to provide immediate temporary stays via its platform for an initial 1,000 people who have escaped Afghanistan. On the weekend alone, 165 refugees were placed in safe housing after touching down in the US.

Australia’s humanitarian intake of Afghan refugees under scrutiny

With each passing day the desperate situation in Kabul and the Hamid Karzai International airport intensifies — it is the place of last resort for people to escape Afghanistan before the 31 August deadline the US has flagged to get as many of its citizens and other national evacuees out of the country. 

The Taliban have rejected any suggestion of permitting American and allied forces and other partners, including Australia, to conduct any emergency evacuation flights beyond this month. They have to go by August 31, the Taliban warn.

Prime minister Scott Morrison has outlined that Afghan civilians will be prioritised for resettlement in an existing allocation of 3,000 of Australia’s regular humanitarian intake for this financial year. He has also said however that number is a baseline and may be subject to revision.

Hundreds of thousands of locals have swarmed the international airport in Kabul trying to escape. Other Afghan nationals with connections to Australia, like the Mahboboa’s Promise orphanage of 130 children and staff and a Hazara boy who has been waiting for his child visa application to reunite with his family in Australia to be approved for more than 12 months now, are left with sharing their stories with media in a last effort to appeal for government help. There are many similar stories published across Australian news outlets.

Alex Hawke, the Australian minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs, issued a statement last Wednesday saying those Afghan civilians who have been able to engage in the offshore humanitarian program would be prioritised for resettlement in Australia. 

He said that the initially allocated 3,000 humanitarian places would also prioritise applicants who were family members of Australians, persecuted minorities such as women and girls, children, the Hazara and other vulnerable groups.

“The government anticipates this initial allocation will increase further over the course of this year,” Hawke said.

“In coming weeks I will continue to engage with Australian-Afghan community leaders to identify those most at risk, with a focus on family members, minorities, women, children and other vulnerable and persecuted groups,” he said.

To date, Australia’s humanitarian commitment pales in comparison with other international partners like Canada and the UK which have respectively committed to taking in at least 20,000 Afghan civilians

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young has started a campaign to move the Australian government to match the generosity of Canada and the UK. She is also calling for the prime minister to grant permanent protection to 4,400 Afghans already in Australia so that they can move on with their lives, confident that their futures are safe.

“Many have been here for many, many years. They can’t go back. Why not end their limbo now, allowing them to rebuild their lives without the fear of the Taliban?” the senator said.

Hanson-Young added that Australia had a moral obligation to help those who stood alongside us during the more than 20 years ADF troops were deployed to Afghanistan as part of a coalition mission there after the September 11 World Trade Centre twin tower terrorist attack in 2001.

“We must play our role in the international community by acknowledging that this is a humanitarian crisis and we need to do more,” she said. 

Australian lawyer Gregory Rohan is the director of the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC) in Sydney. The community legal centre provides free immigration and advice in NSW and has a number of clients who are Afghan Australians.

Rohan argues that Australia can do better than 3,000 places within its existing humanitarian intake scheme. There is also recent precedent of accepting at least 12,000 refugees on top of the caps of the national scheme as Australia did for civilians in Syria and Iraq at the height of the crisis there. 

“Clearly it’s not enough, we’ve got the capacity to do more, and we should – and we should do it quickly, to get those refugees to Australia as soon as possible,” Rohan told The Mandarin.

“Australia likes to promote the fact that it’s one of the most generous settlers of refugees in the world. This is an opportunity to demonstrate that commitment and continue to be a world leader in the resettlement of refugees.”

Rohan is also concerned with how impersonal the Australian immigration process is, citing rejection letters that are issued with pro forma responses that show no consideration of the individual circumstances of the case. In anticipation of the significant volume of visa applications that are likely to follow the mass civilian exodus from Afghanistan, he wants the Australian Department of Home Affairs to refine its process so that applicants have a clear understanding, if they are rejected, exactly why they have been.

“They are not really an individualised assessment of the circumstances of the individuals, and that is something that causes significant distress to people,” Rohan said.

“It is something that I think will come up again, particularly given the volume of inquiries we’re getting about offshore humanitarian visas.

“There are going to be a lot of people refused visas and they won’t know why, and that is going to be something that the community will have to face.”


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