Since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan a year ago today, the Australian Government has received more than 200,000 refugee and humanitarian visa applications from Afghans desperately seeking protection. So far, only 57.4% of these applications have even been registered in the Department of Home Affairs’ system.
The previous government made a commitment of 31,500 places for Afghanistan over the next four years. The Labor government has not made it clear whether they will honour this undertaking. We urge the new Albanese government to act expeditiously and offer at least 20,000 additional refugee and humanitarian visas for Afghanistan. Many have already lost their lives as a result of the previous Australian government’s inaction, as the Taliban have hunted down, detained, tortured, and even killed those who worked with our forces as well as journalists, women’s rights defenders and members of religious minorities and other marginalised communities.
Since returning to power, the Taliban has imposed their draconian interpretation of Islamic law and severely curtailed freedoms. There is now a ‘gender apartheid’ as women and girls are systematically denied their fundamental rights; the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has been replaced with the Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Girls over the age of 12 are banned from secondary education. The Taliban have decreed that women must be covered head-to-toe in public or face criminal punishment.
Those attempting to flee Afghanistan have risked beatings by Taliban officials at passport offices and airports. The Taliban have advised that applicants for national identity cards and passports may be turned away unless their hairstyle and beard length comply with their strict rules. In some parts of the country, barbers have been banned from shaving or trimming beards, saying it breaches the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law.
The Simon-Skjodt Centre for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which monitors atrocities around the world, said in a statement that “Hazaras are under attack”, and “urgent action is needed”. Other observers also argue that the atrocities against the Hazara people constitute “genocide”. Hazaras are targeted based on ethnicity, religion and more recently, because of their dedication to democratic and liberal values, education, and human rights in Afghanistan. In July and August 2021, the Taliban massacred predominantly Shia Hazaras in Ghazni and Daikundi provinces respectively and forcibly displaced thousands of Hazaras from their homes, acts which are still continuing to occur. Hazara lives remain in grave danger in Afghanistan, as they face persecution by Sunni-Muslim extremists, in a Sunni majority-Muslim Afghanistan, as well as ongoing, brutal acts of violence that are escalating in frequency and intensity.
Australia is home to around 41,766 people from the Hazara ethnic group, according to the latest census data, many of whom fled Afghanistan during the previous Taliban regime in the late 1990s and early 2000s when the Taliban massacred Hazaras in their thousands. Australian-Hazaras are renowned for being highly entrepreneurial and have created successful businesses, particularly in resettlement hubs such as Dandenong, Shepparton and Naracoorte. Having been treated as second-class citizens in Afghanistan, once given the opportunity to live in Australia, Hazaras have seized every opportunity to rebuild their lives and contribute to their new country.
We ask the government to immediately grant refugees holding temporary protection visas permanent residency, so they can settle here and be reunited with their family members. This cohort of refugees does not have the right to sponsor family members and are subject to condition 8570, which restricts them from travelling to visit family members unless the Australian government determines there are ‘compassionate and compelling circumstances’ to do so. Visa holders were previously able to request permission to visit partners and children they had not seen in over a year, however in October 2021 the policy was changed. Currently the only example of circumstances where travel requests are likely to be approved is visiting or caring for partners or children who are seriously ill or dying or attending their funeral. The refusal rate of travel requests has led temporary protection visa holders to express concerns that this change in policy suggests that the next time they will be allowed to travel to see family members is to bury them.
Kate Jackson, a migration agent who works predominantly with the Australian Hazara community says, “children have been murdered by the Taliban and in suicide bombings while waiting more than 10 years unnecessarily for their visa applications to be processed. These children could have been enjoying freedom in Australia if not for punitive policies which have inflicted unconscionable cruelty by wilfully delaying thousands of visa and citizenship applications”.
The Labor government has the opportunity to transform this malevolent administration by adopting a humane approach which reflects Australian values.
We urge the Albanese government to immediately grant permanent protection and facilitate family reunification for Afghan refugees already living in our communities and expedite processing of refugee and humanitarian visas for those facing grave danger in Afghanistan.
Sitarah Mohammadi is spokesperson for the World Hazara Council and a current Juris Doctorate candidate. She was the 2019 Provost’s Scholar at the University of Oxford, where she completed her studies in International Relations and Politics. @sitarah_m
Sajjad Askary is a Juris Doctor student at Monash University and writes on refugees, human rights and Afghanistan. @AskarySajjad