Kabul: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday has sent out the strongest indication yet that Afghan interpreters who helped Australian troops will be evacuated and offered protection.
However, the prime minister has been careful in commenting on how long the process would take, fearful it could put the interpreters at risk of persecution. “We’re working on that right now and I can’t go into too much detail because I don’t want to put anyone who is the subject of what we’re doing there in any position of risk or danger,” he said.
Morrison said that the government was well versed with the protection visa process. “This is a program we know well. We have done it before and we will work through this steadily. Our form and our record is being able to use our special humanitarian visa processes to do the right thing,” he added. At least 300 interpreters are seeking protection in Australia as allied troops depart Afghanistan. Morrison acknowledged time was of the essence, with some of the interpreters placed on Taliban kill lists.
In Germany too, an appeal has been made to the German government to speed up the resettlement of hundreds of Afghans – who were employed by the military – in the country amid concerns over their safety. The appeal was penned by high-ranking representatives from the military, politics, development aid, and the diplomatic corps as international troops prepare to be withdrawn from Afghanistan next month.
Signatories include two former German ambassadors to Afghanistan, the former inspector general of the Bundeswehr, leading aid workers and Marcus Grotian, chair of the Patronage network of the Afghani Local Workforce.
The German military, the Bundeswehr, which has been involved in military operations in Afghanistan since 2001 and has over 1,000 troops stationed there, is estimated to have employed around 520 Afghans as interpreters, drivers, security staff, and administrators over the past two years.
On the other hand, Greens senator Jordon Steele-John from Australia has warned that the Australian government’s decision to close the embassy in Kabul will disadvantage the victims of war crimes and their families. The senator’s call for the government to reverse its decision — announced last month — follows an ABC investigation that revealed details of the single deadliest alleged atrocity committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The alleged war crime, known as the ‘tractor job’, reportedly led to the deaths of 13 people.
In a statement on Wednesday, Steele-John said that, in light of the ‘horrific and truly shameful’ revelations, Australia must reopen the embassy. “Now is not the time for Australia to lose a vital piece of on-the-ground infrastructure that would be critical in supporting the Office of the Special Investigator to better access evidence and witnesses in Afghanistan,” he said.
“To close the Australian Embassy in Kabul now, when so much new and truly shameful information about the conduct of Australian SAS soldiers in Afghanistan has come to light, borders on governmental obstruction of justice! The closure of the Australian Embassy in Kabul will unjustifiably disadvantage the victims, and their families, when engaging with the investigation,” he said.
Last year an inquiry alleged that Australian Special Forces personnel murdered at least 39 prisoners, farmers and other civilians while in Afghanistan. The Office of the Special Investigator was established to investigate the alleged atrocities.