Thursday, May 26

‘Disgraceful’: Report says Afghans left behind ‘at high risk of brutal retaliation’ due to links to Australia | Afghanistan

Former Afghan interpreters and other colleagues left behind by the Australian government after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan now face a heightened risk of brutal retaliation, a Senate investigation has found.

A damning new consensus report said Australia had asked Afghan citizens to “put themselves in harm’s way with Australian personnel” but had “left them in harm’s way”.

“It is dishonorable,” said the interim report of the inquiry, which was written by Labor chairwoman Kimberley Kitching and was not opposed by government members of the committee.

Australia’s last-minute evacuation mission, launched on August 18 days after Kabul fell to the Taliban, removed 4,168 people from the Afghan capital over the course of nine days. Those carried on the 32 Australian flights included 167 Australian citizens and 2,984 Afghans with approved visas.

The report described this evacuation effort by Australian Defense Forces personnel and other Australian officials as “immense and heroic”, expressing gratitude to those who worked in dangerous and high-pressure conditions.

But the committee said it had also heard “distressing evidence about those who tried to access the evacuation mission but were unsuccessful.”

He said there were process-related delays in the run-up to the evacuation and “a large number of people and their families remain in Afghanistan at high risk of brutal retaliation from the Taliban due to their association with Australia.”

The report, released on Friday, said “loyalty to peers” was essential to the Australian spirit, and Australian politicians “must stay true to that ideal, lived out every day by the heroes who risk everything to defend us.”

“Australia owes an enduring duty of loyalty to the interpreters and other Afghans who risked their lives in the service of the Australian Defense Forces while in Afghanistan,” the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Business References Committee report says. .

“That loyalty was shown by the brave Australian men and women who served in Afghanistan. It must be proven by the government that sent them there.”

The report says there were about 425 Afghan Locally Contracted Employees (LEE) with viasa, or applications in process, in Afghanistan at the time of the evacuation operation in August.

While it is not known how many of these people managed to secure places in the Australian evacuation, the report says that “a significant number of people” who had helped Australia were ultimately unable to obtain a visa during the operation.

“Tragically, there have now been reports that some LEE applicants have been injured or killed by the Taliban, while others are currently in hiding due to their association with Australia.”

The Senate committee said it saw evidence that, as of July 2021, Defense “was still issuing rejection letters to LEE applicants due to technicalities (such as applicants not having applied within six months of termination). of employment) despite the dire security situation.

The committee also cited evidence, as of August 21, that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade rejected some LEE applications “because of its approach to eligibility criteria related to private contractors.”

The report said there was “no recourse for these at-risk individuals other than joining the general humanitarian visa application process.”

He said it was not until August 22, five days after the Australian evacuation operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, that the government decided to consider subclass 449 emergency visas for those who had applied for the LEE program but were not certified.

Those delays meant that “many of those who received 449 visas were ultimately unable to access Australia’s evacuation effort.”

“These problems have resulted in the inevitable situation that large numbers of people and their families remain in Afghanistan, at high risk of brutal retaliation by the Taliban due to their association with Australia.”

The report also criticized how the government handled the extension of these emergency visas for people associated with the LEE program who were still in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan after the evacuation mission ended.

It says the Morrison administration only announced extensions to those visas on Nov. 18 “the day before these visas began to expire.”

The committee heard that Defense was still processing 70 LEE certification applications at the end of October. The committee urged the government to complete them as quickly as possible and in a favorable manner, given the “likely impossibility” that those people could remain safely in Afghanistan.

“There is no excuse for bureaucratic delays when lives are literally at stake.”

The report said Australia’s obligations extended “beyond the moral imperative” to include “Australia’s vital national security interest”, because Australia needed to maintain a reputation for caring for those willing to assist its personnel in future military engagements. .

The report made eight recommendations, including that the government commission “a full and comprehensive review” of the Afghan employee visa program to “ensure that programs of this nature are improved.”

The government should also review how the evacuation from Afghanistan was handled.

The reference committee adopted the report by consensus. Membership includes Labor Senators Tim Ayres and Tony Sheldon, Liberal Senators Eric Abetz and David Van, and Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie.

While there were no dissenting reports, the Greens added additional comments calling on Australia to extend its humanitarian admission.

The main report urged the government to “review its policies for obtaining permanent protection visas for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees currently in Australia, and to prioritize family reunification when processing humanitarian visa applications from Afghan citizens.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously insisted that no one arriving in Australia by boat will get permanent resettlement.

The committee urged the government to publish a breakdown of the total cost of Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan in each year of its involvement, as well as a breakdown of costs between departments, including the costs of supporting veterans who served in the country. . A final report is due in February.

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