Afghan locals working at Australia's embassy in Kabul fear for their lives after announcement of closure

Australia is temporarily closing its embassy in Afghanistan as defence force troops prepare to leave the country, with diplomats to visit from other posts.

The last of Australia's troops last month flew out of Afghanistan.

The last of Australia's troops last month flew out of Afghanistan. Source: Australian Department of Defence

Afghan locals contracted to provide security for Australia's embassy in Kabul say they fear for their lives in the wake of the announcement to close the consulate. 

Australia will close the embassy within days as international troops withdraw from the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has raised concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Kabul and promised the embassy would reopen once it was safe.

In the meantime, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials will visit Afghanistan from other residential posts in the region.

"It is Australia's expectation this measure will be temporary and we will resume a permanent presence in Kabul once circumstances permit," Mr Morrison said on Tuesday.

"This form of diplomatic representation is common practice around the world. It does not alter our commitment to Afghanistan or its people."

'We cannot wait here in Afghanistan'

The embassy has been open since 2006. Its location is rarely made public, due to security concerns.

More than 100 contractors work there, including security staff and interpreters.

SBS News spoke with one guard who has protected the embassy for more than 10 years. His name has been supressed for safety reasons.

On Monday night, the guard said he was told the mission was over and he did not have a job anymore. He said he was given an email address and told to send a 34-page protection visa form, but he is worried what will happen to him and his family by the time his visa is processed.

The guard is among a group of Australian contractors who protested near Australia's embassy in Kabul on Tuesday to call for protection.
The guard is among a group of Australian contractors who protested near Australia's embassy in Kabul on Tuesday to call for protection. Source: Supplied

The guard said his job working for Australia has made him a target as he is seen to have supported the West.

"We cannot wait here in Afghanistan, if the Taliban come, they will take our lives," the security guard said.

"We already sent that form in 2012 and after eight years we didn't get any result.

"If again we fill it, it will take a long time."

He has stopped sending his children to school as he is worried the Taliban will target them there.

The guard is among a group of Australian contractors who protested near Australia's embassy in Kabul on Tuesday to call for protection.

"They say it is not easy to give you a visa, we have to do security check. But 11 years we have been working, we have all the background with the embassy, so there is no need for that," he said.

"[The Australian government] are turning their back and they want to leave us. We cannot apply to another embassy [like American or German[ as they are saying you didn’t work for us."

'Increasingly uncertain security environment'

Mr Morrison said the departure of Australian and allied forces over the next few months brought with it an increasingly uncertain security environment.

"The government has been advised that security arrangements could not be provided to support our ongoing diplomatic presence," he said.

Labor has called on the government to outline the factors behind its decision and whether alternative options were considered, such as co-locating a diplomatic presence with other like-minded nations.

The prime minister has previously promised Australia would continue supporting Afghanistan through its diplomatic presence, cooperation on development and continued people-to-people links.

"The Morrison government should explain how it will now meet these commitments," Labor senator Penny Wong said.

"We are also disappointed that after 20 years of successive Australian military, diplomatic and development engagement in Afghanistan, there was no bipartisan consultation on this important decision.

"This will have a direct negative impact on Australia's ability to deliver and monitor our ongoing development partnership with Afghanistan."

The embassy in Kabul will close on Friday, 28 May.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne makes a keynote speech to the diplomatic corps at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra, Friday, December 4, 2020. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Source: AAP

The final 80 remaining Australian troops will pull out of Afghanistan by September, in line with America's timeline to end its "forever war" before the 20-year anniversary of the 11 September terror attacks.

The United States began its formal withdrawal earlier this month.

"Australia remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led peaceful resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan, and to helping preserve the gains of the past 20 years," Mr Morrison said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne visited Kabul earlier this month, reaffirming Australia's support for the Afghanistan government.

"Australia remains committed to the bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, and we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan in concert with other nations," the prime minister said.

With additional reporting by Lucy Murray, AAP

4 min read
Published 25 May 2021 at 11:36am
By SBS News
Source: SBS News