We must not abandon the Afghan members of our team
When Australian forces leave Afghanistan in the next 12 months it would be morally reprehensible to abandon those Afghans that have risked their lives to support our military and civilian efforts.
Hundreds of interpreters have patrolled and fought bravely with our soldiers, some have instructed in our trade training schools or worked in construction or logistics areas, some in our kitchens. Many of these brave souls have already died, victims of combat where they simply sought to provide language and understanding.
They walked the same dusty tracks and bled the same blood as us, now it’s time to offer them a way to a new home. To leave them and their families behind to the mercy of local forces would be a sad indictment on us as a nation and a betrayal of our history.
In the modern age, Australia has always supported those who have aided our forces. After the Vietnam War, it was the Whitlam Government who agreed to repatriate Vietnamese nationals who had a long and close association with the Australian presence in Vietnam and whose life was considered to be in danger.
Likewise after the Iraq War, the government granted approximately 550 protection visas to Iraqi nationals who had worked with Australian forces as interpreters and who again were in danger from sectarian violence.
The logistics and administration required to run such a program for our Afghan friends is no more difficult or complex than what is already being undertaken. There is no need for any special legislation, regulation or visa class, no need for any bureaucracy, just this moribund Labor Government to make a decision. In the many recent statements made by the Minister for Defence and the Prime Minister on Australia’s withdrawal from Afghanistan the one issue that has been conspicuous by its omission is how we plan to support the many Afghans who have served with our troops.
The silence is deafening, especially for those Afghans right now accompanying a Special Operations Task Group night strike somewhere in the desert in temperatures plunging well into the negatives.
Last year, Labor’s previous border protection decisions saw 2,000 Afghans, primarily males of fighting age, receive protection visas after coming to Australia illegally on a boat, courtesy of people smugglers. The fact that they passed through three Muslim countries to get here seems lost on this Government.
Yet the Government’s silence on providing priority access to our refugee and humanitarian programme to those Afghans that have served our soldiers, often at great risk to their lives, is tantamount to people smugglers giving these brave men more guarantees than our own Government. I find this repugnant and completely unacceptable.
We are indebted to those Afghan interpreters and others who have worked alongside our military forces on operations in Afghanistan and it is little wonder our men and women in uniform are some of the fiercest advocates for repatriating interpreters to Australia. They, like I, am equally appalled at the current lack of action.
The relationship that exists between Australian military personnel and their Afghan interpreters is a complex yet necessarily close one.
It should be remembered that Trooper Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia in part for risking his life to rescue a wounded Afghan interpreter under heavy enemy fire. There is perhaps no greater example of the mateship that exists between our troops and the Afghan interpreters who they serve alongside.
Our Diggers know all too well the risks interpreters and their families will face once Australian forces leave Afghanistan. While our men and women get to come home, the many Afghan interpreters and others will face an increasingly dangerous future as they are targeted by insurgents for the mere fact they assisted Australian and allied forces.
Our debt to them is a simple one and it just so happens that it is the right and honourable thing to do as well. It just requires the Government to act.
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