Mr Hawke said on Wednesday that the government anticipates that the “initial allocation” of 3000 would “increase further over the course of this year”.
Australia has a long record of bringing in refugees over and above the existing humanitarian intake in times of a crisis, with the most recent example of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott committing to permanently resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria in 2015.
Phil Glendenning, president of the Refugee Council of Australia, said he hoped 3000 was the “starting point” otherwise it would be “highly inadequate”.
“We have a history in these situations,” he said. “Bob Hawke allowed in 42,000 Chinese. Fraser brought in 50,000 Vietnamese and Tony Abbott around 12,000 Syrians. We have a history of Liberal prime ministers doing this.”
Liberal MP Dave Sharma, a former senior diplomat, said he supported a “generous and dedicated humanitarian and refugee intake for Afghans fleeing the Taliban”. “We have a particular duty to women and young girls, who in particular face a dark future under the Taliban, and those Afghans who have assisted Australia during our time there,” Mr Sharma said.
Almost 10,000 people, including Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, have signed a letter calling on the federal government to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake by at least 20,000 people. They want to prioritise spaces for vulnerable and persecuted Afghans, and expedite the resettlement of interpreters, guides and other personnel involved in Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
“After almost two decades of intervention and promises to the Afghan people, promises of protection for persecuted groups, women, democratic freedoms and rule of law, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a moral obligation to act in response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” the letter says.
The open letter also asks the government to grant amnesty to all Afghan nationals in Australia who fear returning to Afghanistan.
Afghans trying to make it onto Australian flights face a dangerous journey trying to get through Taliban road blocks in Kabul.
A former interpreter for the Australian army was allegedly shot in the leg by the Taliban while he was trying to reach Australia’s first military evacuation flight on Wednesday morning, according to a report by SBS News. The man was not on the list of evacuees for the flight but tried to make his way to the airport after he heard it was arriving.
Mr Morrison said he would not comment on the report but stressed “Kabul is a dangerous place and we’ve got Australians operating in a very dangerous environment”.
After arriving at Kabul airport, a RAAF C1-30 Hercules aircraft dropped off officials from the departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence and Home Affairs, who will begin processing Afghans on the ground for future flights. The flight then picked up 26 individuals – including Australian citizens, Afghan nationals and one foreign official – and headed back to Australia’s military base in the United Arab Emirates at 10.45am.
Australia closed its Kabul embassy in late May, meaning it had no officials on the ground in recent days to begin processing former interpreters who served with Australian soldiers during the decades-long conflict, as well as other Afghans who have links to the Australian government. More than 2,200 diplomats and other civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
United States President Joe Biden wants all the evacuations done by August 31, with the Taliban agreeing to allow “safe passage” from Afghanistan for civilians – but a timetable for completing the evacuation has yet to be worked out with the country’s new rulers.
Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged reports that some civilians were encountering resistance by “being turned away or pushed back or even beaten” as they tried to reach airport.
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