Afghan nationals whose Australian visas expire will not be sent back to Afghanistan “while the security situation remains dire” under a moratorium announced by the federal government.
The move, announced by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Tuesday, comes days after the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan after a lightning offensive sparked by the withdrawal of foreign forces.
It comes as the federal government faces mounting pressure to evacuate Australia’s former interpreters and other staff that assisted its mission in Afghanistan.
Advocates for Australia’s former allies have sounded the alarm about their situation for months.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said plans for additional action in Afghanistan have already been “swung into place” in preparation for “what we are hoping to do over the course of this week”.
However, he said: “I don’t propose to go into any of the details of those plans at this point.”
Mr Morrison said 430 Afghan nationals who worked with Australia in Afghanistan have already arrived in the country with their families since April, and “there will be more added to this number” in the future.
The Department of Home Affairs has told SBS News last week it had fewer than 50 humanitarian visa applications from Afghan nationals left to process – however advocates warned there were still hundreds waiting to apply.
Mr Hawke said the Australian government was processing applications at the highest priority.
“Australia will continue to meet our international humanitarian obligations with our generous humanitarian and resettlement program which is flexible and available to address crises in our region,” he said in a statement.
More to come.