The federal government says it has no plans to put Afghans who helped Australian troops on evacuation flights that are being planned by the United States in the next fortnight.
The US will begin flying out Afghans who assisted its forces during the 20-year long war in Afghanistan before the end of the month, sending them to a third country while they await visa processing.
The number of those being evacuated is still unclear but it is believed some 70,000 could potentially be flown out to countries including nearby Uzbekistan, Tajikistan or the UAE.
John McCarthy, who served as Australia’s ambassador to the US between 1995 to 1997, says Australia should put its Afghan staff on those flights given the logistics of the exercise have already been worked out by the Americans.
“It would be a very sensible way to go about it – I can’t understand why we haven’t envisaged that already,” he told SBS News.
“This seems to me a readily available option, and it would make a lot of sense. We should take them out – and if we’ve got the option to take them on American aircraft, we should do that.”
Mr McCarthy said Prime Minister Scott Morrison should be raising this option with US officials, pointing to the decision under former prime minister John Howard to grant Kosovo refugees temporary asylum in Australia in the late 1990s.
Mr Howard has previously told SBS News Australia bears a moral obligation to help Afghans who served with Australia.
“The actions of the Biden administration show I think very clearly that there’s an ethical and moral responsibility which we in Australia are not fulfilling,” Mr McCarthy said.
“I think it shows us in a very bad light, and I’m not just talking about the Americans – I’m talking about what the British seem to be doing, what the French seem to be doing (for Afghan staff).
“It’s Australia that for some reason, we take this unique position, that we should allow ourselves more latitude than our colleagues and our (coalition) allies in Afghanistan. It seems to me it’s totally without justification.”
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS News the government won’t be party to the US operation.
The federal government had no evacuation plans of its own because commercial flights are still running out of Kabul airport, the spokesman added.
Lawyer Glenn Kolomeitz, who is assisting a number of former interpreters of Australia, says the government’s decision was “lazy and disgraceful”.
“Throwaway lines like all they can just get on commercial flights, that’s nonsensical, which shows a complete lack of situational awareness and quite frankly a lack of any humanitarian care,” he told SBS News.
“We have a number of people who are sitting in a centralised location … who can very readily get on these evacuation flights.”
Analysts have previously warned that commercial airlines may stop flying into Kabul if a full-scale civil war breaks out between the government and the Taliban.
The militants claim they now control 85 per cent of the country, including recently a key border crossing in Spin Boldak.
Gruesome videos circulating on social media show public displays of limb amputations and beheadings, while another shows a member of the ethnic Hazara minority being shot in cold blood by a gunman after the man identified himself as a Hazara.
The government says it is urgently processing the visa applications of those who have applied for the special Afghan locally-engaged employee visa, which is reserved for former Afghan staff of Australian agencies.
So far, the government has granted 1400 visas and resettled dozens in Australia in the past few months.
Around 100 people are still waiting for their visas to be processed.