Warning: graphic image below.
A former Afghan interpreter for the Australian army who says he was shot in the leg by the Taliban trying to reach an Australian evacuation flight in August says he is devastated after having to leave his young family behind in Pakistan.
Malik*, whose name is being protected for his safety, had made the dangerous land journey with his family through the border to Pakistan to board a flight to Australia.
He previously served with the Australian Defence Force in Uruzgan between 2010 and 2011. He said he was shot by a Taliban guard at Kabul airport as he tried to make his way to the first Australian military evacuation flight on 17 August.
The father of five was later treated in hospital and returned to the airport queue several times in the coming days with an injured leg, in a desperate attempt to board another evacuation flight with his family.
But he was unable to pass dense crowds amid violence and chaos at the airport gates, and was left behind as Australia ceased its evacuation mission on 26 August, before a suicide bombing attack killed 183 people - including US soldiers - at one of the airport gates.
With his three-month temporary 449 visa expiring in a matter of weeks, and with no flights out to Australia from Kabul, Malik decided to make the dangerous journey crossing the Torkham border to Pakistan, where Taliban guards are routinely stationed and thousands crowd the gates trying to leave Afghanistan.
“We crossed the border to Islamabad with a lot of difficulty with my family,” Malik told SBS News in Dari from Islamabad.
He reached Islamabad two weeks ago, and with the help of local Australian authorities was due to fly to Australia on Thursday afternoon AEST.
Malik in hospital after sustaining a gunshot to his leg at Kabul airport Source: Supplied
But he said he had no choice but to leave behind his wife and five children - two of whom are under five years old - because they are not on his 449 visa documents.
“I’m heartbroken,” Malik said.
“I’m really happy that I’m on my way to Australia but my family will be left here and I’m at a complete loss on what to do.”
He said he pleaded with officials at the Australian High Commission in Pakistan to allow passage for his family too, but was told there was nothing they could do.
“My family, they are very unhappy and everyone is crying, they want to join me in Australia; they do not want to go back to Afghanistan," he said.
“Where we lived in Afghanistan, our lives were in danger. I was a target for the Taliban; my family was a target.
“I just really wish my family can be reunited in Australia.”
The Department of Home Affairs has been contacted for comment.
Malik said he was also worried for some of his former interpreter colleagues who remain trapped in Afghanistan, some of whose temporary visas to Australia expire in the coming days.
More than 2,000 Afghans who were granted the emergency three-month 449 visas remain in Afghanistan or in other countries after also failing to reach evacuation flights in August.
Among the cohort are former ADF interpreters who were still waiting for their locally-engaged employee visas - reserved for former Australian staff - to be processed at the time of the Taliban takeover but were granted the emergency 449s to get on the evacuation flights.
Their visas were due to begin expiring from Friday onwards. On Monday, a Senate hearing was told the government had no policy to extend those offshore temporary visas.
But in an 11th-hour announcement, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Thursday announced those whose visas were expiring who supported Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, including interpreters, will have their visas now extended on an “ongoing basis”.
It will also be extended for “persons with other working relationships with the Australian Government and their families who were issued temporary humanitarian visas.”
Several Afghans with 449 visas who contacted SBS News following the announcement said they were unsure if the extension would apply to them.
Mohammad*, a former Afghan government employee who was trained by an Australian Defence Force colonel as part of a NATO mission, said time was running out for him, with his Australian 449 visa to expire next week.
The former public servant said he’s been unable to cross the border to Pakistan because he’s still waiting for border permits for his family members.
“I know many 449 visas holders who are trying to get passports for their children and get visas for a third country but not succeeding,” Mohammad told SBS News.
A Pakistani paramilitary soldier, right, and Taliban fighters stand guard at a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Torkham. Source: AP
“It takes 37 to 45 days to issue permits. Passing through borders to Pakistan is another big risk which 449 visa holders take.”
He said he was too afraid to leave the house and remains in hiding with his family in Kabul.
“You cannot imagine our situation,” Mohammad said.
“If I am arrested or found, I will be killed because of my working relations and connection with international forces, especially Australian forces.”
Ahmad*, another Afghan with an expiring 449 visa, made a desperate dash across the Pakistan border last week, concerned his visa would not be extended.
He was forced to leave his wife, mother and two small children behind in Afghanistan because they did not have a pass through to Pakistan.
“The Australian High Commission gave me verbal hope that their visas might be renewed, but they didn’t promise anything,” he told SBS News.
*Names have been changed to protect identities