Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the reality many suspected: not all Afghans who worked alongside our armed forces will be rescued to Australia. Those interpreters and contractors, who worked alongside the ADF during Australia’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan, may now be facing death at the hands of the Taliban.
In a press conference today, Morrison said that 430 Afghan nationals have arrived in the country since April, with more than 1800 arriving over several years.
However, the escalating situation in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul, which the Taliban took control of on Monday, has meant that not everyone who worked with the ADF will be rescued.
“I want to talk openly to veterans that despite our best efforts, I know that support won’t reach all that it should,” Morrison said.
“On the ground events have overtaken many efforts. We wish it were different.”
Scenes of chaos have emerged at Kabul’s international airport, as desperate people crowded planes and even clung on to the outside of them.
Video: People run on tarmac of Kabul international airport as a US military aircraft attempts to take off. pic.twitter.com/9qA36HS0WQ— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 16, 2021
The Taliban seized control of the city on Monday, the culmination of a breathtakingly quick takeover of the entire country. It nows control Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years, with many fearing it will rule as it did the last time: with women barred from public life and suspected adulterers or thieves punished with public execution or mutilation.
More than 250 ADF troops have been deployed to Afghanistan to evacuate Australian citizens and Afghan visa holders, but the situation in Kabul means there’s questions a plane will even be able to land. However, Morrison said he is “optimistic”, while providing little further details.
“Right now, I’m focused on the very desperate situation that exists in Kabul right now, making sure that the operations that we are mounting are successful,” he said.
There have been calls to fast-track protection visas for translators and their families for months, after they were placed on a Taliban kill list for working alongside “infidel enemies”.
Morrison defended not acting sooner or faster to evacuate people, given the chaos means some people may now be left behind.
“That process [to evacuate people] did not happen overnight,” he said.
“That’s just since April. There are many months involved in both going through the appropriate processes of identifying pool, looking at what they’ve been able to do with us, going through medical checks, doing all of those necessary things that Australians would expect of their government to do in any such program.”
He added: “We were getting people out from May. I would say that our government has been moving readily now over quite a period of time to bring as many people out as we possibly can, and the job is not yet done. Now in any circumstance it’s impossible to give 100% guarantees that’s all I was referring to.”
He also refused to comment on whether Australia will take in more refugees as part of our increase in humanitarian effort, but said his focus was “on the very desperate situation that exists in Kabul right now”.
VIDEO: Thousands flock to Kabul airport, trying to flee the Taliban as the group’s feared hardline brand of Islamist rule patrols Kabul after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan’s 20-year war pic.twitter.com/M9TpTo1fKb
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) August 17, 2021
Earlier today, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirmed no Afghan visa holder in Australia will be asked to return to Afghanistan “while the situation remains dire”, while stressing that citizens on temporary visas will be supported by the government.
He said more than 8,500 visas have been granted to Afghans under Australia’s humanitarian program since 2013.
“This includes over 1,800 visas to Afghan Locally Engaged Employees and their families at risk of harm due to their employment in support of Australia’s mission in Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
“Since 15 April, 2021, the Australian Government has granted over 640 visas to Afghan LLE and their families with more than 430 people having arrived in Australia since that date,” he said.
Those numbers leave a gap of at least 230 Afghan nationals supplied with visas who have not yet arrived in the country.