Stranded Afghans granted temporary visas by Australia in fear of being forgotten

There are concerns more than 150 people granted visas by Australia but still stuck in Afghanistan won’t be able to leave the country before their documents expire.

A group of former ADF interpreters are calling for help in Kabul.

A group of former ADF interpreters are calling for help in Kabul. Source: Supplied

Australia’s Afghan allies who were issued emergency temporary visas by the federal government are worried they’ll be left stranded in Afghanistan, with their documents expiring in two months. 

More than 150 Afghans who supported Australia's mission in Afghanistan are on temporary Australian visas but unable to leave the war-torn country following the end of evacuation flights last month and with the Taliban now effectively in government.

The vast majority of them are former staffers of Australia’s Kabul embassy who failed to get on evacuation flights before they ceased on 27 August, and nearly two dozen of them former interpreters who served with the Australian Defence Force.

Sam*, who worked as an armoured vehicle maintenance contractor for six years at the embassy, fears his three-month temporary visa will expire and he will be forgotten.

“It was granted for three months, but it's almost 20 days or 35 days passed, it means (I have) two months left,” he told SBS News. 

“We don't know what's the situation for these emails after three months.”

Former Australian Defence Force interpreters in Kabul
Source: Supplied

It has been one month since the Taliban seized the capital Kabul, sweeping into power in Afghanistan and sparking a chaotic exit for the United States and its allies after 20 years in the country.

Sam was granted the visa two days before evacuation flights ceased, and was unable to reach one amid the chaos at Kabul airport. He feared for his children's safety, both of whom are under five years old.

He has not heard from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) since a SmartTraveller update almost two weeks ago advised people to shelter in safety and await further notice.

“We don't know whether to stay here, or leave here, or wait more days to see what's going on,” he said. 

“We don't know when is the further notice.”

A group of former interpreters have also called on the Australian government to help them, fearing time is running out and the Taliban may not fulfil its promise of amnesty to those who served with coalition forces.

Around a dozen of them met in secret in Kabul on Wednesday.

Some of them are also on temporary visas, but most are still waiting for a government response to their applications for a locally-engaged employee visa.

One interpreter who worked with the ADF in Uruzgan in 2010 said they’re worried about reports the Taliban has obtained vast caches of biometric data of those who served with foreign forces.

“They’re raiding and searching houses daily in Kabul,” he told SBS News in Dari. “We’re worried they’ll find our bio-data and find us.”

The man, who has four children, said he is forced to change homes every other day to avoid capture.

“We just want to know if we should leave Afghanistan for Pakistan through the Torkhum [border crossing] or not?

“We heard the Americans got some more of their interpreters out through commercial flights.”

Military lawyer Glenn Kolomeitz, whose firm is representing some of the former embassy staffers, is worried some people on temporary visas will fall through the cracks.

“If they get to Pakistan in two months, they sit there for a month, then suddenly the visa expires. What do they do?" he said. "They’re in a third country with no visa."

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has previously signalled the government is willing to extend temporary visas, which require ministerial discretion.

SBS News understands those on temporary visas who remain left behind in Afghanistan will have their visas extended.

The Department of Home Affairs said it was unable to offer detailed comment.

“While the arrivals and settlement of the emergency evacuation in Afghanistan is progressing, the welfare, privacy, safety and security of this cohort is our priority,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“We ask the media to respect that we are unable to give detailed information related to the situation at this time - including information related to arrival times and locations, visa grants or information about specific individuals.”

*Name has been changed. 

Published 17 September 2021 at 11:26am
By Rashida Yosufzai
Source: SBS News