Australia to resettle ‘thousands upon thousands’ of Afghans

Australia is likely to resettle more than 12,000 Afghan refugees over the coming years as part of its established humanitarian program as the federal government joins international negotiations to extend the deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops in the region.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Federal Parliament on Monday the government would resettle “thousands upon thousands” of Afghans who had “courageously” stood with Australian forces over the 20 years since they joined a United States-led coalition to end the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday the national security committee of cabinet had met daily to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Australia was working closely with its allies and partners.Credit:Getty

The international scramble to evacuate thousands of international workers, Afghan interpreters and women at risk since the Taliban swept to power last week continues, with an estimated 20,000 people chaotically trying to board flights from Kabul airport.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called a virtual meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations for Tuesday to ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people.

Mr Morrison said on Monday the national security committee of cabinet had met daily to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Australia was working closely with its allies and partners.

“Our priority is the safe and orderly departure of Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders, including formerly locally engaged Afghan employees,” he said.

“These evacuations are both dangerous and complex. Landing slots in Kabul are limited and the on-ground time is also limited. Access to the airport for those seeking to be evacuated is a major limiting factor, and the approaches are very dangerous.”

A senior government source told this masthead the government would match its 2015 promise to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees over a number of years and probably go some way towards the promises by Britain and Canada to take 20,000 over five years.

Women, children and religious minorities are likely to be prioritised but, unlike the additional one-off intake of Syrians, all positions will be under Australia’s existing humanitarian program cap of 13,750 people a year.

Mr Morrison has so far only committed to resettling “more than” 3000 Afghans this financial year.

The US on Sunday ordered six commercial airlines to help transport people evacuated from Afghanistan as Washington sought to step up the pace of departures of Americans and at-risk Afghans.

The Pentagon said it called up 18 commercial aircraft from United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air and others to carry people from temporary locations after they landed from Afghanistan.

A NATO official said at least 20 people had died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia was a part of international discussions about the prospect of the US extending its withdrawal deadline and was “absolutely ready” to support a continuing operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

As of Monday morning, Australia had evacuated more than 450 people from Kabul on four Australian Defence Force flights, including Australian and New Zealand citizens, UK evacuees, Afghan locally engaged employees and visa holders.

Senator Payne said there was strong co-operation between the US, Britain and New Zealand.

“More flights are planned over the coming days, subject to operational conditions. A chartered plane transporting 175 evacuees made up of Australians, Australian visa holders and passengers evacuated on behalf of New Zealand arrived this morning in Melbourne,” she said.

Despite bipartisanship pledges of support for Australians on the ground who attempted to rescue those fleeing, Labor used question time to attack Mr Morrison for the government’s tardiness in helping those at risk.

Opposition defence spokesman Brendan O’Connor said Mr Morrison was repeatedly warned by veterans and former prime ministers that time was running out to evacuate Afghans who had worked with the ADF.

“The Prime Minister failed to act early enough and has now been forced to admit people will be left behind. Why won’t the Prime Minister take responsibility for this failure?” he said.

Mr Morrison said he “completely and utterly” rejected the assertion and said 430 people had been resettled since April alone and 1900 over “many years”.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Politics

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article