Church calls on PM: provide humanitarian places for 20,000 Afghan refugees

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A baby is handed over to a US Army soldier over the perimeter wall of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 19 August 2021. Photo: CNS, Omar Haidari, social media via Reuters

The Australian Government should provide at least 20,000 humanitarian places for Afghans in the wake of the Taliban takeover, Australian Catholic Bishop Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said.

His call was echoed by Catholic organisations working with refugees such as the Jesuit Refugee Service, which called on the Government to grant permanent protection to the estimated 5100 Afghan refugees who have been living and working in Australia on temporary visas for up to 10 years.

In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent on Thursday evening, Archbishop Coleridge noted there has been “an outpouring of concern for the people of Afghanistan” as that country’s government has collapsed and the Taliban seized control.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft carrying nearly 700 Afghans from Kabul to Qatar on 15 August 2021. Photo: CNS, courtesy Defense One handout via Reuters

He said the 3000 places offered above and beyond 8000 places over the past decade “is a substantial commitment, but more is needed”.

Based on estimates from key humanitarian organisations and pledges from other countries, Archbishop Coleridge proposed that at least another 17,000 places be made available.

“Australia has stepped up before in response to significant humanitarian crises, and I urge your government to be generous,” he wrote, adding that Catholic agencies “stand ready to assist your government with resettlement of refugees as an expression of our great concern for the people of Afghanistan”.

People gathered outside the airport react to gunfire in Kabul on 18, August 2021, in this still image taken from video in Afghanistan. Photo:, Asvaka News via Reuters

Archbishop Coleridge said many Afghans would find themselves vulnerable under Taliban rule, but he made particular mention of those who supported Australia’s defence personnel who served in Afghanistan, some of whom lost their lives, as well as religious minorities and women.

“It would seem our moral duty to stand with those who supported Australian military forces as interpreters or in other capacities, who it seems likely will suffer reprisals and even death for their work,” he wrote.

“We should also offer refuge to other Afghans who are likely to suffer persecution or risk being killed because of their opposition to the Taliban, or because of their beliefs, values and way of life, including members of the Christian community.

Members of Taliban forces sit at a checkpoint in Kabul on 17 August 2021. Photo: CNS, Stringer, Reuters

Warning: women at risk

“There is a particular risk to women, and Australia’s humanitarian response should recognise and support their dignity and human rights.”

JRS supported Archbishop Coleridge’s call, noting Australia has a long bipartisan tradition of committing to such intakes.

“The time for another commitment is now,” a statement issued by the agency today stated.

Jesuit Refugee Service backs ACBC call

JRS’s call for the granting of permanent protection was supported by the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum, which is co-chaired by JRS and Jesuit Social Services.

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, himself a Vietnamese refugee, called on the Australian government to show the same compassion his own family was extended when fleeing Vietnam in the 1970s.

“I myself was a refugee once. I too fled by boat in the wake of the Fall of Saigon and the end of a protracted war in which Australia had been involved,” says Bishop Long. “My family was welcomed into Australia at a very difficult time. This is also a pivotal moment for us to step up and support those in need in Afghanistan as their country is irrevocably changed in front of their eyes. I hope to see the same level of bipartisan support for Afghan refugees now as there was for Vietnamese refugees then.”

Petition launched

The Australian Afghan Advocacy Network, which describes itself as consisting among others of refugees, children of refugees and supporters, launched an online petition calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison “to take urgent concrete steps to support the Afghan people who, having faced suffering, war, injustice and ongoing trauma, are now facing an imminent humanitarian crisis with the violent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.”

The Network said over 115,000 Australians had signed its online petition since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last week.

It said that among those most vulnerable were the Hazara ethnic minority which, under the previous Taliban regime, had been the subject of widespread killings and genocide.

Groups under threat

It said that following the Taliban takeover there are now “serious fears for numerous other groups including locally engaged employees of western embassies and forces, human rights activists, employees working in Australian government funded schools and NGOs, Australian-educated Afghans, Afghans who identify as LGBTIQ+, human rights defenders, artists, and journalists, among others.”

JRS also urged all Australians to contact their local MPs to urge them to take action to support Afghan refugees.

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