8 November 2021
Human rights and legal organisations from around Australia will today tell a Senate Inquiry investigating Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan that the Morrison Government must do more for the people of Afghanistan.
The Law Council of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugee Advice & Casework Service and more organisations will give evidence to The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee’s Inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.
The organisations are united in their call for the Morrison Government to take meaningful action on Afghanistan as community pressure for an additional humanitarian intake of at least 20,000 people and permanent protection to refugees from Afghanistan in Australia have gone ignored.
It has been three months since the Taliban seized Kabul and Australian troops, as well as the U.S. and other forces, withdrew after a 20-year long invasion. There are currently an estimated half-a-million displaced people in Afghanistan and over 130,000 people from Afghanistan have applied for protection in Australia through the Special Humanitarian Program. However, the Morrison Government’s response has been wholly inadequate.
Tim Watkin, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Australian Council for International Development said: “The humanitarian situation is dire but we are sounding the alarm that the worst is yet to come as winter sets in. Today, over half of the Afghan people are living in extreme poverty, and without action this is predicted to rise to 97% by mid next year.
“We need urgency from the Australian Government on tackling the immediate humanitarian crisis; leadership on resolving challenges which are restricting the provision of life-saving aid; and urgent planning on how we can protect the development gains Australia has helped to achieve.”
Fiona Nelson, Senior Legal Advisor at Australian Centre for International Justice said: “Any assessment of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan must consider the response to allegations of war crimes by Australian forces. Prosecutors need to ensure that Afghan witnesses and victims can participate effectively in any future proceedings. And the Department of Defence must act to ensure compliance with international humanitarian law in future conflicts.”
“The crisis in Afghanistan has had a devastating impact on Afghanistan’s civil society. The Australian government should immediately increase humanitarian intake from Afghanistan and ensure that Afghan human rights defenders are among those protected.”
The Law Council of Australia said: “We commend the Government on its package of measures to assist Subclass 449 visa holders. Looking forward, Australia’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan should be multi-faceted and include a significant increase in places allocated to Afghans within the humanitarian program and increased, sustainable financial support for legal assistance services to provide legal advice to persons seeking humanitarian visas and family reunion.”
Mat Tinkler, Save the Children Deputy CEO and Director of International Programs said: “Save the Children is determined to continue our work in Afghanistan to support the millions of children in need of life-saving aid. We are calling on the Australian Government to urgently increase humanitarian funding and to boost our intake of Afghan refugees to 20,000. Save the Children urges the Australian Government not to abandon the children of Afghanistan.”
Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice & Casework Service said: “Response to the crisis in Afghanistan must be proportionate to our intervention and promises made. We made promises to those who served alongside Australia, we’ve made promises to defend democracy, we’ve made promises to protect those most vulnerable in Afghanistan. The overwhelming call from the community of Afghanistan for Australia’s protection is a result of our connections and commitments. We have an obligation to act, and presently our response lacks a recognition of 20 years of engagement in Afghanistan and decades of allyship with this community.”
Carolyn Graydon, Principal Solicitor at Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said: “Australia participated in the Afghanistan conflict yet treated the fleeing victims with callous disregard for their basic human rights. Rather than providing safety, an intentional program of harm was inflicted upon them by the Australian Government, with many left to perish for years in offshore processing centres, subjected to protracted detention, denied durable protection and denied the ability to settle and be reunited with even immediate family members.”
“This cruelty has severely damaged the Australian Afghanistan community, many of whom are still in limbo and now face the additional psychological torture of being helpless to help their families in Afghanistan struggling for survival, who should have been brought to safety in Australia years ago. Australia has a lot to make up for and should immediately provide an additional 20,000 humanitarian visa places, abolish temporary protection and provide accelerated family reunion pathways to those separated from their families, as well as others at risk in Afghanistan before more lives are lost.”
Media enquiries: Rawan Arraf, Australian Centre for International Justice: 0450 70 88 70
Image credit: LS Paul Berry/Australian War Memorial