Article written by Anthea Spinks, Oxfam Australia Programs Director
As the final US planes flew out of Kabul this week, the hopes of thousands of Afghan people to also leave their country were dealt a heavy blow.
With the country now devoid of foreign forces for the first time in 20 years, what happens next remains uncertain. And while we continue to hope for peace for the people of Afghanistan, we are concerned that first may come a period of great instability.
Australian forces fought alongside our Allies as well as Afghan soldiers for two decades. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed. We cannot wash our hands of this situation because our military involvement in the country has come to an end.
While we applaud the fact that the Australian Government managed to evacuate thousands of people from Kabul in recent weeks under extremely challenging conditions, we believe our support must not end there. We believe the Federal Government has a moral obligation to do everything possible to ensure safe passage for those still seeking to leave the country.
This includes Afghan citizens who have worked with international NGOs, women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, women and girls, LGBTIQ+ people and advocates, media, and members of ethnic and religious minority groups.
Even before this latest development, Afghanistan was already facing myriad challenges including COVID-19 and a hunger crisis, with many already forced from their homes due to conflict and drought.
As we did in 2015 for Syrian and Iraqi refugees, we must acknowledge the extraordinary nature of this situation by committing further places for the permanent resettlement of Afghan people in our community. Canada has pledged an additional 20,000 places – we should at least match that commitment.
This support should also be extended to those already in third countries and those living in Australia on temporary visas. It’s time to give these people security, hope, and the chance to build a new life without the fear of being sent back to a place from which they’ve fled.
Many of these genuine refugees have been trying for many years to bring their families to Australia, with bureaucratic obstacles deliberately placed in their path to make it close to impossible for them to do so. This cruel policy must be overturned – they must be supported to reunite with their loved ones.
We must also contribute our fair share to responding to any humanitarian crisis that emerges in the coming weeks and months, by committing additional funding to support those on the ground to respond.
Australia’s longest running war effort has finally come to an end. That chapter of our involvement with Afghanistan is over. But our minds and our hearts must remain open to the Afghan people as we start the next chapter.
We know we can do the right thing and increase our intake because we have shown this generosity before to the Syrian and Iraqi people who now call Australia home. Join Oxfam in calling for safe passage for Afghans who need a new home.