We all risk having "blood on our hands" if we do not act to save loyal Afghan employees

We all risk having "blood on our hands" if we do not act to save loyal Afghan employees

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In early June some 40 of my friends and colleagues, many of whom have worked in Asia since the 1960s in senior positions in media, business and diplomacy, wrote to Marise Payne, the Minister of Foreign Affairs with copies to the Prime Minister and Alex Hawke, the Minister of Immigration regarding the plight of those Afghans who have worked with the Australian Government. We requested that she and her ministerial colleagues arrange for special residence visas to be issued to those Afghans on an urgent basis.

The response from an unnamed person in the Department of Home Affairs referred to the possibility of such Afghans receiving Refugee and Humanitarian (Class XB) visas if they were certified “as being at significant risk of harm as a result of their employment or support to Australia’s mission”.  Upon such certification they should apply at an Australian overseas mission and then be subject to “rigorous health, character and national security requirements”.  This creates insurmountable problems for these Afghans.  Firstly, we have closed our mission in Kabul.  Secondly, the rigorous checks will take months, if not longer, to process.  Many of these loyal Afghans are likely to be killed by the Taliban in the meantime and it is believed some already have.

My friends and colleagues recall vividly when in 1975, the Whitlam Labor Government failed to evacuate our Cambodian and Vietnamese staff when Phnom Penh and Saigon fell to the Khmer Rouge and the North Vietnamese army respectively.  This omission was in stark contrast to the actions of the United States, and of other countries which had been involved in the Indochina wars on the side of the United States.

It was assessed in 1975 that locally engaged staff would probably be safe in Saigon and Phnom Penh.  That assessment was wrong. Only two of some 80 staff and their family members survived the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. After the fall of Saigon, a large proportion of our employees were sent to re-education camps.

Put simply, we failed to repay their loyalty to Australia.

Now a Coalition Morrison Government is about to make the same error of judgement that the Labor Government made in 1975.  The US is apparently considering moving its local employees to a safe place while their visa applications are assessed.  It is easy for our bureaucrats and politicians to find excuses, but it also possible for them to find solutions should they care to do so.

We seek your support in petitioning the Prime Minister to intervene and find an urgent solution to the issuing of these special visas.  His failure to do so is likely to result in many deaths which he, his colleagues and our fellow Australians will have to live with for the rest of their lives.

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