Defence Minister Peter Dutton is under pressure to provide visas to over a hundred Afghan interpreters who helped Australian troops and officials during the war.
With the withdrawal of Australia, the United States, and Britain – the Taliban are regaining territory.
“I am concerned about those people who have helped the Australian government do its work there (Afghanistan),” said Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie.
Including their families, at least thousand people are in immediate danger from Taliban reprisals.
The Afghan interpreters began seeking sanctuary with countries like Australia when it became clear that the Taliban were killing those who opposed them during the war.
“A lot of people in army – in the Defence Force – are really angry about this because they know how to have someone’s back,” said Ben Fordham on 2GB. “And these people had their back when we needed it so are we going to do the same for them?”
“Is Peter Dutton going to step in here?”
Home Affairs have approved more than 230 special protection visas for Afghans fleeing the Taliban since April.
Jason Scanes, an advocate for the stranded interpreters and himself an Afghanistan veteran, pointed out that many of these were part of a backlog. Some had been waiting for up to seven years before their visas were cleared, despite Afghan interpreters having the highest processing priority.
“The issue at the moment – it’s very alarming and concerning,” Scanes told SBS News. “We have a resurgent Taliban, a Coalition footprint that’s fading in Afghanistan and the window of opportunity is closing.”
“They are on the run at the moment, they are being hunted down.”
Retired Major Stuart McCarthy called for those in immediate danger to be relocated to a safe third country for the duration of the approvals process.
There has been a steady stream of Afghan interpreters arriving in Australia this year as the withdrawal date looms. September 11 will mark the end of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. The date was chosen to mirror the September 11 attacks in America which began the War in Afghanistan – the longest in US history.
Interpreters still stuck in Afghanistan have written to Australia’s home affairs and immigration departments via the Australian embassy in Jordan.
One letter read:
“Roughly 300 interpreters and their families’ members have been killed since 2016. […] We are the eyes and ears for the Australians and so now we are seen as the enemy. Most of us don’t have jobs now because everyone [the Coalition forces] is leaving.”
The Covid pandemic has further complicated the extraction of refugees from conflict zones.
“Interpreters are the only people on the refugee and humanitarian visa wait-list that have been allowed to enter the country during the global pandemic,” said Liberal MP Phillip Thompson.
The United States is under similar pressure to expedite around 18,000 US Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications that are set to miss the extraction deadline. A mass evacuation plan is being discussed to send the applicants to an intermediary country for the duration of the approvals process.
“I gave everything I had to the Americans, but once they are gone, I will be killed. They [the Taliban] keep track of us, and they don’t shoot us like they do Afghan soldiers. If they catch me, they will behead me,” said Shirzad, a former Afghan interpreter.
Despite US President Joe Biden stating that, “Afghans who helped us are not going to be left behind,” the American emergency plan has suffered a setback after in-person interviews were suspended due to Covid.
“You have been helping US occupier forces and … you are an ally and spy of infidels, we will never leave you alive.” - A handwritten Taliban note directed at an Afghan interpreter.
All countries involved maintain the need for strict character assessments on refugees to ensure that only genuine refugees are approved, and not terrorists.
“There has to be character assessments done because we are fighting in a war,” insisted Thompson to Sky News Australia.