Afghans who have applied for Australian humanitarian visas say they live in fear as the Taliban “chase us like animals”.
Reports of their “painful” experiences under the Taliban regime – including testimonies of beatings, interrogations and threats against family members – are due to be sent to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan, which begins at public hearings on Monday.
A Hazara man described being questioned by the Taliban when they demanded to know if he was a civilian activist and had connections to foreigners.
The man, whose name could not be released for security reasons, said he was taken into a cell where he was blindfolded and gagged.
“I received 26 lashes. I felt the first five lashes and after that I could not feel anything more, my back became numb. ”
He later said he was threatened with execution. “I thought my life would soon be over. I was so scared, “he wrote. He was eventually released from custody and is now hiding and sleeping somewhere else every night.
“The Taliban have been calling me every night,” he wrote. “They tell me not to try to run away, that wherever I am, even outside of Afghanistan, they will find me.”
It is one of several testimonies prepared by an Australian citizen who has helped Afghan nationals apply for Australian humanitarian visas with the support of rural Australians for refugees.
In another report to Guardian Australia, a former Afghan soldier in the National Army said he had briefly come out of hiding to “send the papers and identity documents to friends helping me apply for a humanitarian visa to Australia”.
“The [the Taliban] say that they forgive anyone who has worked with foreigners, or who has worked in the government or in the army, ”he wrote. “But in reality, they are chasing us like animals. I fear we will all be killed in the end. ”
An employee of a non-governmental organization noted that the Taliban went door to door, allegedly to assess humanitarian needs.
“They use this as a way to spot people, under the guise of a humanitarian assessment, which is fundamentally disgusting. They do evil things behind ‘good deeds’. ”
This person said he was hoping to legally leave Afghanistan and had received a letter of acknowledgment from the Australian Government for his family’s humanitarian visa application in mid-September.
Meanwhile, a Hazara hospitality staffer described the past few weeks as “the darkest in my entire life”. He said many young people were “willing to gamble with their lives to illegally cross borders with neighboring countries”.
“Living here is much more suffocating and more painful. It is a slow, gradual death, ”this person wrote.
“I just hope we can at least get out of here and be in a place where we will be treated like human beings.”
Greens senator Janet Rice said she found the testimonies to be “really heartbreaking and gut-wrenching” and she planned to pass them on to the new Senate inquiry into Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Rice said the accounts would serve as “very important evidence” for the investigation “to cut through the Taliban’s propaganda that it’s fine and that people are safe”.
“It’s just really sober to see that this is what’s happening on earth for human rights defenders, for Hazara people, for other ethnic minorities,” Rice said.
“People live in absolute fear for their lives, and from some of the accounts we know that fear is absolutely justified because they are being taken in and tortured.”
Rice called on the Australian government to accept at least 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. The government has reserved 3,000 seats within its existing humanitarian intake for this fiscal year, but has said this number is a minimum.
On Monday, four government ministries – including Home Affairs and Defense – will be questioned during the first hearing of the Afghanistan inquiry in Canberra.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade References is examining how the Australian Government should respond to the latest developments in Afghanistan following the country’s fall to the Taliban in August.
It includes how to “protect Australian citizens, visa holders and Afghan nationals who supported Australian forces wherever they remain in Afghanistan”.
The study will also examine whether Australia’s longest military commitment met the objectives of successive governments and the adequacy of preparation for withdrawal.
Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching, chair of the committee, said she believed Australia “was a force for good in Afghanistan”, but the inquiry would pursue important issues.
“The Australians – especially the brave men and women of the ADF who risked everything and did so much good, our diplomats and aid workers – want answers to some big questions about our role in Afghanistan,” Kitching said.
“Why were we there? Was our strategy correct? What did we achieve? Could we have left in a better and more dignified way? Who did we leave behind? ”
Australia closed its embassy in Kabul in May on Security Council and removed its last 80 troops shortly after. The head of the Australian Defense Forces, General Angus Campbell, said in September that he had been surprised by the speed of Afghanistan’s collapse of the Taliban.