Let’s Protect as Many Afghans as We Can

18 August 2021

It’s hard to fathom how it feels to have come home from serving in Afghanistan, or to have lost a loved one in the conflict there, and to see it unravelling now.

Since the announcements of the US’s withdrawal, and the closure of Australia’s embassy, I’ve been contacted by veterans, development workers and diplomats.

A common thread is the way these announcements have exacerbated the trauma many were already suffering.

That was most acutely triggered by fear Afghans who helped in operations would be left behind to face the wrath of a vengeful Taliban.

So for months now many, including veterans, former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd, and Labor, have been calling to urgently get those Afghans, and their families, to safety.

Government ministers gave lofty assurances help was on the way.

But at the same time, we heard report after report of Afghans caught up in bureaucratic gridlock. Right now, an Australian operation is planned to evacuate as many people as possible.

We all wait with bated breath, hoping the operation can be executed safely and successfully. But for those still waiting on visas it may be too little, too late.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said “support won’t reach all that it should”.

Instead of taking responsibility for delays, he’s blaming “on the ground events”.

But these events could have been foreseen. Former defence force chief Admiral Chris Barrie noted in sadness and frustration we’ve had since April but: “Now we find the very ugly truth that we’ve just left it far too late … I don’t know why we suddenly found ourselves so caught out and unprepared to do the work.”

Surely our government should listen to calls from those who have served who seek the simple respect of loyalty to those who served alongside them.

It’s understandable people are questioning the meaning of the Afghanistan mission.

There is no doubt it helped a lot of people, especially women and girls.

But there’s also no doubt the mission didn’t end the way we all wanted. In coming weeks, I hope there’s an honest discussion about lessons from this experience.

But there are three tasks the government should start on: Fast-tracking visas and evacuations for Afghan family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents; opening up the thousands of unused humanitarian places for Afghans who are at risk of harm by the Taliban, including women and girls; and ensuring Afghans in Australia on temporary visas have pathways to remain and won’t be involuntarily deported.

These are all ways Australia can still make a difference to the future of some Afghans.

This Opinion Piece was first published in The Advertiser on Wednesday, 18 August 2021.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.