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‘The dark age has started again’: Afghan Australians’ heartbreak over Taliban victory

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Many of his dreams have already come true – he is studying engineering and doing an undergraduate internship with the West Gate Tunnel project. But today, while his feet are in Footscray, his mind is in Kabul.

More than anything he craves permanent residency and to be able to bring his family to Australia.

“That would be the best thing that could happen to me in my life.”

The federal government is facing pleas to protect Afghan nationals in Australia on temporary visas by extending their visas indefinitely and implementing an emergency humanitarian intake plan for people in Afghanistan at risk from the Taliban.

Amnesty International Australia refugee co-ordinator Dr Graham Thom said Australia had the capacity “to manage this humanitarian intake, just as we did for those fleeing the crisis in Syria.

“The Australian government must also act to protect Afghan nationals in Australia on temporary visas by extending their visas indefinitely.”

Afghan community leader Bassir Qadiri.

Afghan community leader Bassir Qadiri.Credit:Eddie Jim

Afghan Australian leader Bassir Qadiri said the community was heartbroken.

“We don’t know what will happen next,” said Mr Qadiri, the chairperson of the Bakhtar Cultural Association. “The dark age has started again over there.”

Six weeks ago, he applied for a humanitarian visa for his mother, concerned for her safety.

“My mother worked as a women’s rights activist and educator for the past four decades. She has worked with government and NGOs such as UNICEF since 2002 to establish schools for girls in rural parts of Kabul,” he said.

Displaced Afghan women and children sheltering in a mosque in Kabul. A wave of refugees fleeing Afghanistan has already started.

Displaced Afghan women and children sheltering in a mosque in Kabul. A wave of refugees fleeing Afghanistan has already started. Credit:Getty Images

“She believed she could bring changes to women’s lives in Afghanistan.”

The application was declined, but Mr Qadiri said he had applied again on Monday.

He called on the Australian government to give Afghan Australians on temporary protection visas permanent protection and resettle the 7612 refugees from Afghanistan who remain marooned in Indonesia.

“Those people in Indonesia are suffering for nine years – it’s time we raise our voices and stand up for them,” he said.

The Refugee Action Coalition called on the Morrison government to establish a special category for Afghan refugees to at least match Canada’s announced intake of 20,000.

It said Australia’s intake should include all those Afghans stranded in Indonesia because of the Australian government ban on accepting UNHCR refugees from Indonesia.

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“We are calling for all Afghan refugees and asylum seekers on temporary protection or bridging visas to be granted permanent visas, and for immediate arrangements to be made to bring their families to Australia,” spokesperson Ian Rintoul said.

A government source speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to comment said the issue of humanitarian visas was not the focus at the moment while the government worked on the operation to rescue people from Kabul.

Government figures show that as of June 2021 more than 4200 people from Afghanistan are in Australia on temporary protection visas.

Afghan Association of Victoria president Altaf Hussein said the mental stress was severe for people in Australia on such visas whose families were trapped in Afghanistan.

Mr Hussein’s mother, a permanent resident, couldn’t sleep on Sunday night after she lost contact with her family when the Taliban bombed the telephone tower in the district of Jaghori, where they live.

“I can’t even imagine the problems of the [temporary visa] holders,” Mr Hussein said.

Through tears, he lamented: “I can’t do anything except write letters to the government saying what good residents they are; please bring their families here. What can I do? I am not a religious person, but now I am saying, ‘Please God help me, let me do something for people from my country.’ You cannot imagine what is happening.”

Sayed Hussainizada an Australian Hazara, in his family restaurant in Sydney’s Campbelltown.

Sayed Hussainizada an Australian Hazara, in his family restaurant in Sydney’s Campbelltown.Credit:James Brickwood

The same fears are being felt by Afghan Australians around the country.

Sayed Hussainizada said his daughter-in-law scrambled to get out of Kabul on Saturday after her original flight to Sydney via Dubai was cancelled. The family had to pay an extra $5000 to get her a business class flight after her economy class ticket was cancelled. She arrived in Sydney on Sunday night and is in hotel quarantine.

Mr Hussainizada, 50, who arrived in Australia as a refugee 21 years ago, said he barely slept on Sunday night because he was worried about the safety of friends and extended family. Mr Hussainizada, who is the founder and president of the Afghan Fajar Association and works in a family restaurant in Campbelltown, in Sydney’s west, is also part of the persecuted Shiite Hazara community.

“We are worried about dark days in our history coming back,” he said.

“I’m really fearful for what is to come”: Sydney lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh.

“I’m really fearful for what is to come”: Sydney lawyer Mariam Veiszadeh. Credit:Wolter Peeters

Sydney lawyer and human rights advocate Mariam Veiszadeh, who was born in Kabul and arrived in Australia at the age of seven with her parents and older brother in 1990, said she spent Sunday night “watching this human tragedy unfold” in Afghanistan. She said Australia should be rescuing more vulnerable people and providing humanitarian aid.

“It’s really hard to watch and feel helpless and sense of frustration that Western countries, including Australia, should be and could be doing more,” she said. “I’m really fearful for what is to come.

“While many of us are shocked at the speed in which the Taliban were able to take hold of the country in little less than a week, few are surprised that Afghanistan is now yet again in this situation after decades of foreign intervention by countries who have a track record for meddling in the Middle East for political gain.

“As an Afghan Australian, my heart is in my mouth as I watch on in complete despair. The final nail in the coffin was seeing images emerge of Taliban members perched in Kabul’s presidential palace.”

With Anna Patty

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