Humanitarian advocates, immigration lawyers and the federal government are trying to get the remaining embassy guards and interpreters who worked with Australia’s embassy and military out of Afghanistan over land.
Humanitarian advocate Kay Danes has told the senate references committee looking at Australia’s role in Afghanistan that there were still people with temporary protection visas remaining in Afghanistan and that the current intention was to find a way for them to leave the country across a border.
The parliamentary committee, which commenced its public hearings on Monday, is looking at what obstacles stood in the way of getting people who had worked with Australian authorities out of Afghanistan as well as the history of the Australian engagement in the region.
Committee members heard evidence from the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence concerning the evacuation process undertaken in August once Kabul had fallen to the Taliban.
Government departments confirmed during evidence that there was no master list of people that had worked for the Australian military or at the embassy in Kabul with advocates supplying a list with critical information for the department.
Danes and Patrick Ryan, a fellow humanitarian advocate, were both involved in coordinating the assembly of the details of embassy staff for a database that formed a basis for identifying the individuals to which temporary protection visas would eventually be given.
Danes and Ryan were also responsible for ensuring the former embassy staff were at Hamid Karzai International Airport when the evacuation process began.
A 30-page document authored by Danes was attached to a submission lodged with the committee by Danes and Glen Kolomeitz, a migration lawyer and director of GAP Veteran & Legal Services, details the frenetic nature of the communications between advocates in Australia, Australia foreign affairs department officers in Afghanistan and the former guards and staff waiting outside the airport.
At one point on August 23 the DFAT officer at the airport communicating with Danes asked her to ensure that the former guards and their families remain patient.
The master list prepared by Danes and Ryan was sent to DFAT several times including once during the evacuation process to try and ease identification, but there were difficulties moving into the airport.
A DFAT staffer on the ground in Kabul described the situation as ‘horrendous’.
“We do not control the security of the gate and have been prevented from removing people from the canal following an earlier surge of people that threatened the perimeter security. We are hoping that we will have a window of time to pull as many people out as we can but can’t provide further details,” a message sent to Danes referred to in her 30-page account states. “I’m sorry that I can’t provide you any more information or assurance at this time. Please know that we know they are there and are trying to do what we can.”
Not all of the former embassy staff were able to get out of Afghanistan on an Australian given the confusion about official travel documents with people that had electronically issued visas being turned back at the gate by Australian soldiers.
It is the balance of the original 196 embassy staff and guards that still remain in Afghanistan that are now the object of Danes’ and Kolomeitz’s efforts and Danes said the current relationship between DFAT and the team at GAP Veteran and Legal Services was good despite earlier tensions that were present before and during the evacuation process.
“At this stage we are very grateful for the level of engagement that we have now with the department through the chief of staff. We are extremely grateful for that contact and that relationship because we are presently seeking to evacuate remaining 449ers over land,” Danes told the committee.
“That support from the chief of staff [to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Justin Bassi], and Dan Parker from Wandering Warriors is very much appreciated and it is critical to the effective result we hope to gain.”
Meanwhile, prime minister Scott Morrison Tuesday evening attended the virtual G20 Extraordianry Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan.
In a statement he said: “We must be coordinated in our approach to Afghanistan’s immediate humanitarian needs, to demand the Taliban regime ensure safe passage from Afghanistan for foreign citizens and visa holders, and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism.
“I stand with G20 members in supporting international agencies delivering much needed humanitarian assistance on the ground. Australia is committed to helping Afghanistan build a stable and secure future.”