More than 100,000 Afghan nationals are seeking humanitarian visas from Australia, officials have revealed, as demand far exceeds the 3,000 places the federal government originally allocated when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
Officials have also revealed that nearly 300 Australian citizens or permanent residents are left in Afghanistan, with an unspecified number of them seeking help from the government to leave the country.
On Monday, humanitarian advocates told a Senate inquiry that Afghans lived in “fear and insecurity.” In recent days, a witness said during the hearing, the Taliban had attacked a former security guard who had helped Australia and was left on the evacuation mission in August.
The Interior Ministry confirmed the scale of the crisis, saying Australia had received 26,000 applications from Afghan nationals for protection in the past seven weeks.
Given that these applications often include family groups, officials estimated that this meant that more than 100,000 people sought help from Australia.
David Wilden, a first assistant secretary at the Interior Ministry, said applications had risen after Kabul’s fall and the government had received them “in very large quantities daily since then”.
Australia was still reviewing these applications, but they may include people who are still in Afghanistan and people outside the country, and some with and some without connections to Australia, he said.
Wilden said that while the government had allocated 3,000 seats within the existing humanitarian program this fiscal year, this was the “word”, not the ceiling for Australia’s intake. He said it was open to the government to take a higher figure.
Australia’s current annual humanitarian intake from all countries is 13,750 people – a number that was lowered by the coalition. The Norwegian Refugee Council in Australia is among groups calling for a special intake of 20,000 places for refugees from Afghanistan.
Sitarah Mohammadi, of the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network, on Monday called on the Australian Government to announce a special humanitarian effort targeting particularly vulnerable groups.
She told the study that the people of Afghanistan now lived under “fear and insecurity” under Taliban rule. Mohammadi said the Taliban was “brutal and ruthless” and the future “looks ugly” for women and girls.
Atika Hussain, a lawyer and member of Australia’s Hazara diaspora, said in a statement that it was “morally wrong to leave vulnerable religious minority groups like Hazara at the expense of the Taliban who have committed violent attacks against the group”.
Hussain said Australian Hazaras had had family members killed in the Taliban attack on Ghazni in June this year, while others had had the family forcibly fled by Taliban attacks on Daikundi.
“It is disturbing to learn that every terrorist attack in Afghanistan leaves victims in Australia from the Hazara community,” Hussain said. “Therefore, we call for an increase and prioritization of the humanitarian intake for most persecuted groups like Hazara.”
When questioned by the Senate, Kay Danes, a humanitarian spokesman for GAP Veterans and Legal Services, said security guards who had helped Australia and stayed in Afghanistan were now hiding in safe houses.
“We only had one guard a day or two ago beaten by the Taliban,” the Danes said. “His mother, thank God, saved him, bless her. She hung on to him and did not let them take him away from the house. ”
Australian officials defended the military-led mission that flew 4,100 people out of Kabul in August — and the lack of a previous evacuation operation.
Simon Newnham, acting deputy secretary of state in the Department of State and Trade, said the evacuation flights were arranged “in the midst of the most challenging circumstances”. He said two-thirds of those evacuated were women and children.
Newnham acknowledged the “desperate circumstances” for those going to Kabul airport as they suffered crushing crowds, violence and the “devastated terrorist attack on August 26, when the evacuation window closed”.
Daniel Sloper, the Australian Government’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, joined the Doha hearing. After reflecting on the evacuation mission in August, he said bluntly, “We are very conscious that we left others behind.”
Sloper said he was not directly involved with the Taliban “at this time”, although some of Australia’s close partners were involved in practical issues.
Home Affairs provided an overview of the number of applications received under the program of locally engaged staff in the months leading up to the Taliban’s full takeover of Afghanistan.
They received five new applications in April, covering 23 people when family members are included. It was followed by 13 applications (62 people) in May, 14 applications (62 people) in June and 11 applications (50 people) in July.
The number of new applications from former locally engaged staff rose to 68 (293 people) in August, the month in which the Taliban seized Kabul.
The ADF chief, General Angus Campbell, was asked about the government publicly ruling out a military-led evacuation mission in July, with the emphasis then on commercial flights.
Campbell noted that it was “a matter for the government” to decide, but added: “In July, there was no military reason for an evacuation operation to be carried out by the ADF.”
Campbell said demand for the locally engaged staff program rose from early August amid a “very dramatic takeover of a whole range of provincial capitals” by the Taliban.
Hugh Jeffrey, a senior official in the Department of Defense, said: “It is true that [then] The Afghan government was sensitive to the idea or image of countries leaving Afghanistan quickly or quickly. ”
The Australian government closed its embassy in Kabul in May following advice on the deteriorating security situation.
Campbell said he was “very much alive” for the “worst case scenario” for the future of rescuing embassy officials while rescuing locally committed staff and Australian citizens, residents and visa holders.
The defense told the government “that the embassy should withdraw when Australian forces withdraw because it gives us confidence that we would not have an embassy team isolated in extremes should the worst happen”.
Additional reporting by Ben Doherty