Accessibility links

Breaking News

Australia Urged to Rescue Former Interpreters in Afghanistan

FILE - Australian troops stand at attention during a ceremony at Camp Armadillo in Afghanistan's in Helmand province, April 25, 2008.

Australia is being urged to agree to an immediate emergency evacuation of Afghans who worked for its military during the long conflict in Afghanistan.

Campaigners this week released a list of the names of nine Afghans who worked for Australia during the conflict in Afghanistan and were allegedly murdered as “traitors” by the Taliban in reprisal attacks. This is despite a recent announcement the Taliban made pledging they would not retaliate against Afghans who worked with foreign groups.

Islamic militants are attempting to retake control of Afghanistan as foreign forces leave.

Interpreters played a key role during the conflict. Campaigners have said about 1,000 Afghans are still going through Australia’s visa process, but they say it is taking too long.

Stuart McCarthy, an ex-Australian soldier who was deployed to Afghanistan twice, has been an advocate for former Afghan interpreters and other staff. He said he believes the closure last month of the Australian Embassy in Kabul has made it much harder for the interpreters to leave Afghanistan safely.

He has submitted an emergency evacuation plan to the Australian government.

McCarthy told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the rescue mission should be undertaken without delay.

“It could still be conducted very rapidly, very effectively and in my view, it would be a very good way for us to end our 20-year-long military commitment to Afghanistan, and in my view now if we are not making these sorts of decisions today or tomorrow essentially what we will be doing is allowing these civilians to be slaughtered by the Taliban,” he said. “And our own government, including our prime minister, would have blood on their hands.”

Senior foreign affairs officials in Canberra have conceded that locals who worked with the Australian military in Afghanistan are in danger.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has tried to assure Afghan interpreters waiting for a protection visa they were being given “the highest priority in the humanitarian program.”

Hawke said 180 visas had been issued since April, but he would not reveal how many applications were still being assessed because of “operational and security reasons.”

Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie told the Federal Senate that it was “absolutely shameful” to leave the interpreters without protection.

“The world,” she said, “is watching how we treat our mates.”