Refugee advocates call for urgent action as Australia ends Afghanistan evacuation mission

Many refugee advocates, including student communities, are calling for the Morrison Government to step up to moral and legal responsibilities as the crisis in Afghanistan unfolds. (Image: Bashir Darwish via The Guardian)

By Anisha Pillarisetty | @nishkinsilk

The Afghan Australian Advocacy Network (AAAN) are urging the Australian Government to do more to protect the Afghan community, following the Government confirming an end to Australia’s evacuation mission.

The Government’s decision to cease evacuation follows the Kabul airport bombing on Thursday August 26, during which more than a 100 people – including 13 US troops – lost their lives.

The offshoot group Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has claimed responsibility for the two simultaneous bomb attacks.

In a media release yesterday, the AAAN said the Morrison Government could continue the evacuation mission from neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, to rescue those who fled across the border.

“There are now serious fears about the fate of the people of Afghanistan who have already suffered decades long war, injustice, and ongoing trauma,” the AAAN said.

At a joint press conference held yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australians and Afghan visa holders in Kabul should stay away from the airport and register themselves with the Department of Foreign Affairs, if they haven’t already.

“There’s an ongoing and very high threat of [a] terrorist attack,” Payne said.

Minister Payne said they could not confirm if any Australians had been caught in Thursday’s attacks.

“We will contact those for whom we have details, and that is why it is so important to register,” she said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a little over 4000 people have been evacuated since the start of the nine-day mission.

“Australia’s operations now for the evacuation have been completed,” Morrison said.

“The United States and the United Kingdom of course remain in Afghanistan over the next few days.”

The AAAN’s open letter, addressed to Prime Minister Morrison and outlining immediate actions his Government could take, has over 165,000 signatories, including 300 organisations. 

The actions include following Canada’s lead by increasing Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake by 20,000 places, while prioritising Afghan refugees from vulnerable groups.

The letter also calls for permanent protection to be granted to over 5000 Afghan refugees, mostly from the long-persecuted Hazara ethnic group, who are on temporary visas in Australia.

Human rights lawyer Arif Hussein said the “hasty, chaotic and irresponsible” withdrawal of international troops has “directly contributed” to the worsening crisis in Afghanistan.

“After two decades of intervention and promises, the Afghan people are now abandoned to face the double threat of a Taliban rule, and ISKP attacks with the devastating consequence seen overnight,” Hussein said.

Other countries, including Canada, Denmark, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands and most recently, New Zealand, have also ended their evacuation missions in Afghanistan.

University of South Australia (UniSA) student, former United Nations employee and Hazara refugee Muzafar Ali said refugee crises like the one in Afghanistan are solely humanitarian and should not be politicised.

“We’re trying to keep this world safe and there is a country, a whole country sinking in the hands of the Taliban. How is that possible?” Ali said.

“As an international community we have failed to protect vulnerable individuals.

“Afghanistan’s failure is the Australian Government’s failure. We can at least reduce the damage that we have done, that we have inflicted on Afghanistan, by accepting more refugees.”

Ali also said Australian universities can provide a platform for discussions led by Afghan students on issues like the failure of military intervention in Afghanistan.

“There are hundreds of Hazara and Afghan students in my university,” Ali said. “What are the real stories of real Afghan people that are untold?”

CEO of Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights Diana Sayed said Afghans in Australia are “overwhelmed and heartbroken on multiple fronts”.

“The time for hand wringing is over. We need to listen to the very genuine calls and feelings of those Afghans left behind and do everything that we can to bring them to safety,” Sayed said.

“Now is the time for Australia to step up and do what is right.”

Community actions include calling or emailing your MP, signing petitions, such as this one to support Afghan artists, and supporting initiatives led by local Afghan communities.

Nexus Arts, at the UniSA City West Campus, is hosting a fundraising concert for Afghanistan on September 4.

The Welcoming Centre, collaborating with various Afghan community groups including the Afghan Cultural Association of South Australia, has posted a call-out for donations of household supplies to be distributed to newly-arrived Afghan people.

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