A delegation of faith leaders, members of the Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network, and veterans, are in Canberra this week to call on the government to offer more Afghan refugees safety.
The team of advocates warned that receiving 15,000 refugees over four years is not a proportionate response to the humanitarian crisis, nor in line with Australian community expectations.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced in January over the next four years 10,000 humanitarian and 5,000 family visas will be set aside for those who have or are fleeing Afghanistan. However, this intake isn't additional to Australia's already small annual intake of 13,750 people. Further, many of the approximately 5,500 Afghans who have already arrived in Australia this past year, will now need to apply for one of those 10,000 humanitarian visa spots.
“Australians are united in their shared responsibility to the Afghan people. They want a generous intake and to welcome those in need safely. However, from what we can make of the government’s recent announcement, all we have left is 4,500 remaining humanitarian places for those fleeing Afghanistan, when there are 150,000 Afghans who have made applications to Australia for protection,” said Mariam Veiszadeh, CEO Media Diversity Australia, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network.
“Such a tiny offering isn’t a compassionate, humanitarian response, it is not commensurate with the crisis unfolding nor does it reflect Australia’s responsibility to the Afghan people. Australians know this.
“Christian leaders, Afghan Australians, and veterans have consistently called for 20,000 Afghans to be taken in as an additional intake - we will not stop our calls. Australia’s humanitarian cap was cut by 5,000 in 2020 to 13,750 - so we've been progressively shrinking our intake as it is.
“We spent two decades in Afghanistan as part of the military campaign - it is our moral duty to bring as many people to safety as we can.”
More than 162,000 people have signed onto the Action For Afghanistan change.org petition, every mainline Christian denomination as well as the Australian Christian Lobby has thrown its support behind the campaign Christians United for Afghanistan. More than 300 organisations, businesses and community groups signed onto a joint letter from the Refugee Council of Australia, with all these groups urging federal parliamentarians to commit to 20,000 additional humanitarian places.
Wendy Francis, National Director of Politics for the Australian Christian Lobby said,
“Afghanistan is arguably the world’s largest humanitarian crisis today. The ongoing brutal treatment, particularly regarding women, girls, and minority groups, must not be ignored or forgotten. This is why the Australian Christian Lobby is renewing its call for our government to urgently increase our refugee intake from the devastated nation, as well as giving existing Afghan refugees on TPVs in Australia the assurance of permanency. We can’t rescue everyone, but we can, and must, do more.”
There is precedent for Australia lifting its humanitarian intake in response to significant global conflict and upheaval. In 2017, the Abbott government offered an additional 12,000 people fleeing Syria and Iraq safety, on top of the annual humanitarian intake.
The delegation will make the case to the MPs it meets that the 2022 Budget provides the ideal opportunity for the government to reset its response to the crisis in Afghanistan.
“Since the 2019 election, we’ve lost 28,000 humanitarian visas from Australia’s planned intake, due to COVID shortfalls which were then made into permanent cuts,” said Rev Tim Costello, Executive Director, Micah Australia. “It is well within the power of this Government to make space for a special additional intake of 20,000 places for refugees from Afghanistan over the next two years.
“As the Abbott Government illustrated in 2015, this special intake can enable Australia to give priority to refugees in Afghanistan while not forgetting refugees in need elsewhere. There are currently more than 84 million people forcibly displaced in the world. There is so much need, but instead of growing our intake our federal government is keeping a very tight cap on our intake. If you have unexpected guests arrive at your house for dinner, you don't just cut everyone a smaller slice of pie - you bake a bigger pie, you offer what you can.”
The delegation will meet with politicians, including Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. The delegation includes:
- Rev Tim Costello, Executive Director, Micah Australia
- Mariam Veiszadeh, CEO Media Diversity Australia, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network
- Arif Hussein, Senior Solicitor for RACS, Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network
- Glenn Kolomeitz, Director at GAP Veteran & Legal Services
- Wendy Francis, National Director of Politics, Australian Christian Lobby
- Right Reverend Chris Edwards, Bishop of North Sydney, Assistant Bishop to Archbishop of Sydney Kanishka Raffel, Metropolitan of New South Wales and ACT
- Dr Tim McKenna, CAPSA Advisory Group Member and Chair of the St Vincent de Paul Society Refugee Network
- Bishop Philip Huggins, Convener of the Anglican Church working Group on Refugee and Migrant Issues
- Matt Darvas, National Director, Micah Australia
Additional delegation quotes:
“The scale and severity of the Afghan humanitarian crisis continues to worsen. The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) reiterates its call on the Australian Government to announce a special intake of at least 20,000 humanitarian visas for vulnerable people from Afghanistan additional to our annual humanitarian intake. Catholic Church agencies, parishes, schools, and community groups are already assisting Afghan refugees. We stand ready to do our part in a more ambitious, compassionate response.”
– Tim McKenna, CAPSA Advisory Group, Member and Chair of the St Vincent de Paul Society Refugee Network.
“After a 20-year military engagement and blood spilt in Afghanistan, I can’t understate the impact the Afghan visa crisis is having on our veteran community. The Government and Opposition should not ignore the level of support our veterans are showing for our Afghan colleagues and the people of that country more broadly. And it’s not just Afghanistan veterans who are sharing their concerns with me – I’ve had Vietnam Veterans tell me this is reminiscent of the fall of Saigon, but many believe Vietnamese refugees were treated better by the Australian Government back then than Afghan refugees are being treated now.”
- Glenn Kolomeitz, Afghanistan veteran and principal lawyer at GAP Veteran & Legal Services.
“The war in Afghanistan was the longest war in our history. In that time, we made significant promises to the people of Afghanistan that included protection of persecuted groups, and women. Australia’s current commitments to those fleeing the Taliban does not begin to recognise our relationship with the war, our moral obligation to the people of Afghanistan, the escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan right now, and the contributions of the Afghan-Australian community to Australia.”
- Arif Hussein, Senior Solicitor at Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Afghanistan-Australian Advocacy Network.