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Faith leaders join Afghan-Australians, veterans in call for Australian Government to accept more Afghan refugees

Sydney, Australia

The Australian Government has told refugee advocates it will “think about” increasing the number of Afghan refugees it settles after pulling out of the country from a 20-year military engagement last year.

A delegation of faith leaders, veterans and advocates on Monday said Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told them the government was “actively looking” at allocating humanitarian visas for 4,500 evacuees already in Australia in addition to the 10,000 already allocated for Afghan refugees in the next four years.

Australia Afghanistan delegation

The delegation in Canberra (left to right): Matt Darvas, Bishop Philip Huggins, Bishop Chris Edwards, Tim Costello, Wendy Francis, Tim McKenna, Mariam Veiszadeh, Glenn Kolomeitz, and Arif Hussein. PICTURE: Supplied.

The delegation – who included Rev Tim Costello, executive director of Micah Australia, Wendy Francis, national director of politics at the Australian Christian Lobby, and Bishop Philip Huggins, convener of the Anglican Church working group on refugee and migrant issues – is calling for an immediate increase to visa allocations for Afghan refugees of 20,000, a decision it says has the backing of churches, veterans and humanitarian organisations and which could be announced in the federal budget on 29th March.

They say this would give security to those living in fear of the Taliban in Afghanistan including those who are being taken hostage and held for ransom and currently existing by moving between safe houses. The latter include the family of one of the delegation members, Mariam Veiszadeh, who is CEO of Media Diversity Australia, part of the Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network.

The Federal Government announced last month that Australia would set aside 10,000 humanitarian and 5,000 family visas in the next four years for those who have fled or are fleeing Afghanistan as part of its general annual refugee intake of 13,750. This equates to accepting around 3,750 Afghan nationals per year. The delegates say 15,000 places is not a “proportionate response to the humanitarian crisis, nor in line with Australian community expectations”.

Members of the delegation – which also included Matt Darvas, national director of Micah Australia, Dr Tim McKenna, chair of the St Vincent de Paul Society Refugee Network, Arif Hussein, senior solicitor for the Refugee Advice & Casework Service (also part of the Afghanistan-Australia Advocacy Network) and Glenn Kolomeitz, director at GAP Veteran & Legal Services – held meetings with a cross section of politicians on Monday.

Darvas told Sight following the meeting with Immigration Minister Alex Hawke that he had told them the government was still “constrained” by what they announced last month.

“After seeing our delegation – and how disappointed we were that the original announcement was not for an additional intake but from within the existing humanitarian cap – today [Monday] the minister has told us that the government is actively looking at making the 4,500 evacuees already in Australia ‘additional’, and so on top of the 10,000 humanitarian visas for Afghans announced in Jan[uary],” Darvas said. “Even the concession is not assured.”

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He said Labor had said they were ready to make a more generous and compassionate announcement, but may not do so before the forthcoming federal election.

Darvas said a precedent had been set by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015, who made concessions for Syrians and Iraqi nationals following conflict in that region.

“Abbott created a special intake for a special crisis. They [the Morrison government] should just do that this time, but they won’t,” he said.

Darvas said the issue is that Australia had entered Afghanistan.

“I think the primary issue is we went there to work with them for liberation, for freedom from the oppressive Taliban regime that once ruled there,” he said. “We recruited them to our community development programs through NGOs or [the] Australian aid program, or they were the translators that worked alongside our army, so we gave them a vision for what could be. That’s now all come falling down and those who actually partnered with us and caught that vision – they’re the ones precisely whose lives are now most at risk. We can’t seem to even get those who worked most closely with us – it’s difficult to even get all of them and their family members out under this small cap.”

More than 162,000 people have signed onto an ‘Action For Afghanistan’ petition and the delegation says people from every mainline Christian denomination as well as the Australian Christian Lobby has thrown its support behind the campaign Christians United for Afghanistan. In addition, more than 300 organisations, businesses and community groups signed onto a joint letter from the Refugee Council of Australia urging federal parliamentarians to commit to 20,000 additional humanitarian places.

The delegation argue that since the 2019 election, 28,000 humanitarian visas have been removed from Australia’s planned intake due to COVID-19, which were then made permanent cuts.



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