Afghans’ epic walk-in support of families at risk
A group of Afghans who worked with Australian troops and diplomats during the 20-year conflict in their homeland have made a 700km trek to Canberra, braving rain and cold, to call on the federal government to repatriate more stranded Afghan families.
The men, local employed interpreters who worked with Australia during the occupation of Afghanistan, took 18 days to complete the walk and met federal politicians on arrival.
One of the three trekkers Qutbiallam Timor, president of the Afghan Locally Engaged Employee Alliance, is urging Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to expand the program to include 5,000 humanitarian visas for extended family members.
“We met with Immigration Minister Andrew Giles and other politicians and they listened to us. But we are disappointed that none of our demands have been met,” Mr Timor said.
“But the government has said it will take the points we made into consideration and get back to us in the near future. So there is some hope that we will get some results,” he said.
The locally engaged employee visa program will close to applicants on November 30 before it winds up in May next year.
“We were the eyes and ears of Australia’s defence forces and diplomats in the battleground in Afghanistan so it is their moral obligation towards the employees’ extended families to bring them to safety and freedom,” Mr Timor said.
“In making this decision, the government is not showing support for members of the ADF who died or who were wounded in Afghanistan.
“The government must prioritise the Afghan LEE extended families. The visas priorities seem to have changed but the situation in Afghanistan has not changed. There are still vulnerable family members in Afghanistan at risk of persecution, or worse, by the Taliban.
“We have asked for 5000 visa places to be allocated to Afghan LEE families within the 26,500 humanitarian visas allocated. If this is not possible, we want to see additional places made available,” Mr Timor said.
The group arrived in Canberra after an epic walk over 18 days, inspired by former AFL star Michal Long’s ‘Long Walk’.
“The first few days were difficult with blisters and tiredness. Members of our organisation supplied us with food and met us at an arranged place with a caravan each night,” Mr Timor said.
The men walked between 40 and 30 kilometres each day.
So far, more than 2500 Afghan workers and their families – from interpreters to consular staff – have been resettled in Australia in the last decade.
Mr Timor worked as a business advisor and a monitoring analyst with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a multinational base in the Urzugan province for a year before resettling in Melbourne in 2014.
“These families who have been left behind are being harassed, tortured and even killed,” he said.
Mr Timor said he knew of reprisals from the Taliban and other insurgents against relatives of staff because of their affiliation with Australia.
The group is asking that applications for extended families of employees be given priority, the reconsideration of refused visa requests and the acceptance of applicants who have been displaced outside of Afghanistan.
“The program should not end. Shutting down the scheme would jeopardise Australia’s international standing,” Mr Timor said.
An independent review of the program by former public servant Vivienne Thom said the defence and foreign affairs departments were ill equipped to assess applications in a timely way.
More than 12,000 permanent humanitarian visas have been granted to Afghan citizens under the program since the fall of Kabul in August 2021.