Afghans who have applied for Australian humanitarian visas say they are living in fear as the Taliban are “hunting us down like animals”.
Accounts of their “painful” experiences under the Taliban regime – including testimonies of beatings, interrogations and threats to family members – are set to be provided to a Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, which begins public hearings on Monday.
A Hazara man described being interrogated by the Taliban as they demanded to know whether he was a civil activist and had any links to foreigners.
The man, whose name cannot be published for safety reasons, said he was taken into a cell where he was blindfolded and gagged.
“I received 26 lashes. I felt the first five lashes and after that I couldn’t feel anything anymore, my back became numb.”
He recounted later being threatened with execution. “I believed my life would soon be over. I was so frightened,” he wrote. He was eventually released from custody and is now in hiding, sleeping in a different place every night.
“The Taliban have been calling me every night,” he wrote. “They tell me not to try to run away, that wherever I am, even outside of Afghanistan, they will find me.”
It is one of several testimonies compiled by an Australian citizen who has been helping Afghan nationals apply for Australian humanitarian visas, with the support of Rural Australians for Refugees.
In another account provided to Guardian Australia, a former Afghan national army soldier said he had come out of hiding briefly to “send the papers and identity documents to friends who are helping me apply for a humanitarian visa to Australia”.
“They [the Taliban] say they forgive everyone who has worked with foreigners, or who worked in government or in the army,” he wrote. “But in reality, they are hunting us down like animals. I fear we will all be killed in the end.”
A worker for a non-government organisation noted the Taliban were going door-to-door, purportedly to assess humanitarian needs.
“They are using this as a way to spot people, in the guise of a humanitarian assessment, which is disgusting basically. They are doing evil things behind ‘good deeds’.”
This person said he was hoping to leave Afghanistan legally and had received an acknowledgement letter from the Australian government for his family’s humanitarian visa application in mid-September.
Meanwhile, a Hazara hospitality worker described the past few weeks as “the darkest of my whole life”. He said many young people were “willing to gamble with their lives to illegally cross the borders into neighbouring countries”.
“Living here is much more suffocating and more painful. It’s a slow, gradual death,” this person wrote.
“I just hope that at least we can get out of here and be somewhere where we will be treated as human.”
The Greens senator Janet Rice said she found the testimonies to be “really heartbreaking and gut-wrenching”, and she planned to pass them on to the new Senate inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Rice said the accounts would serve as “very significant evidence” to the inquiry “to cut through the propaganda that has been perpetuated by the Taliban that things are fine and that people are safe”.
“It’s just really sobering to see this is what is happening on the ground to human rights defenders, to Hazara people, to other ethnic minorities,” Rice said.
“People are living in absolute fear for their lives, and from some of the accounts we know that that fear is absolutely justified because they’re being taken in and tortured.”
Rice called on the Australian government to accept at least 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. The government has reserved 3,000 places within its existing humanitarian intake for this financial year, but has said this number is a minimum.
On Monday four government departments – including home affairs and defence – will be questioned at the first hearing of the Afghanistan inquiry in Canberra.
The Senate’s foreign affairs, defence and trade references committee is investigating how the Australian government should respond to the latest developments in Afghanistan, following the fall of the country to Taliban in August.
That includes how to “protect Australian citizens, visa holders, and Afghan nationals who supported Australian forces, where they remain in Afghanistan”.
The inquiry will also examine whether Australia’s longest military engagement met the goals set by successive governments, and the adequacy of the preparation for withdrawal.
The Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, who chairs the committee, said she believed Australia “was a force for good in Afghanistan” but the inquiry would pursue important questions.
“Australians – especially the brave men and women of the ADF who risked everything and did so much good, our diplomats, and aid workers – want answers to some big questions about our role in Afghanistan,” Kitching said.
“Why were we there? Was our strategy correct? What did we accomplish? Could we have left in a better and more dignified manner? Who did we leave behind?”
Australia closed its embassy in Kabul in May on security advice, and removed its final 80 troops soon afterwards. The chief of the Australian Defence Force, Gen Angus Campbell, said in September he had been surprised by the speed of Afghanistan’s collapse to the Taliban.