Federal Member for Blair and Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Shayne Neumann has called on the Morrison Government to fast-track visas for all Afghan interpreters and local staff, with growing reports of direct threats against their safety by the Taliban.
Scott Morrison needs to deliver an urgent coordinated plan across the Departments of Home Affairs, Defence and Foreign Affairs to help these people and their families by the time the last remaining troops leave Afghanistan in September.
In Senate Estimates recently, Foreign Minister Marise Payne could not give any assurances that these visas would be processed with any urgency, saying that the Government would consider visa applications based on existing processes and “I can’t speak for Home Affairs”.
Mr Neumann said this stands in stark contrast with the plans by the US, UK and coalition members to evacuate thousands of local staff to safety with widespread troop withdrawals planned.
“Australia has a duty of care to these Afghan nationals who were vital to the Australian Government operations over 20 years,” he said.
“They now face threats from the Taliban and we have a moral obligation to act urgently to get them to safety.
“In many cases, these interpreters wore Australian uniforms and helped keep our troops and diplomats safe, at great risk to themselves.
“This is not the time for buck-passing between Ministers. Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews needs to get this done.
“These people are ‘brothers in arms’ and are facing real risks to their safety now. They can’t afford a year-long wait for a visa.
“What’s more, many Australian veterans have said this issue is exacerbating their existing trauma because they see it as leaving their mates behind.
“And this is not just a moral obligation, but a strategic imperative that’s in our national interest.
“Make no mistake – if we can’t help these people now, it sets a bad precedent and will compromise our ability to recruit local staff during future operations,” Mr Neumann said.
Recent reports suggest a small group have had their visas approved after lengthy waits and have been told to prepare for an evacuation flight later this month, however there are hundreds of interpreters and local staff seeking protection.
Officials told a recent Senate Estimates hearing that Afghan staff would have to find “commercial options” to get to Australia once their visas and exemptions are processed – this just isn’t good enough.
We know from the 36,000 Australians stranded around the world how difficult getting a commercial flight home is.
The Morrison Government needs to explain what help it will provide to get all approved staff and their families to Australia.
If Scott Morrison had acted sooner to deliver safe, federal quarantine, there would be more options to help get these people who have risked their lives for Australia to safety.