Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government is considering repatriation flights for Afghan translators and other staff who helped in Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of Afghans who worked for Australia have been urgently applying for protection visas to escape reprisal attacks from the resurgent Taliban, which considers those who worked with foreign forces traitors.
The government has been under increasing pressure in recent weeks to follow the United States in preparing for military evacuations of Afghans who served with their forces and agencies as support staff.
Last week, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS News the government was not considering military evacuations, as commercial flights were still available.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison said the government had so far brought 252 Afghans and their families to Australia since April and the government looking at keeping its “steady progress” going through other avenues.
“Where necessary, if we have to have facilitated commercial flights to bring them to Australia, I know Australians would support that,” he told reporters.
“We’ve spent quite a lot of time on this, as you’d expect us to do, through the National Security Committee and working with the Immigration Minister.”
Mr Morrison said he looked forward to having “more to say” on the matter in the weeks ahead.
He also said Australia could return to Afghanistan in a diplomatic capacity, only weeks after it closed its Kabul embassy in Kabul.
“I hope we will be able to do that at an early opportunity, but only when it is safe,” he said.
A group of veterans and some serving members of the Australian Defence Force across the country burned their service medals on Monday in protest against the government’s handling of the Afghan interpreters and staff.
Retired major Stuart McCarthy led the campaign. He told SBS News on Wednesday he welcomed the potential for facilitated repatriation flights but was concerned about those hiding in rural areas of Afghanistan where it was difficult to leave for Kabul.
“Every person able to leave Afghanistan is another life saved,” he said.
“However I remain alarmed at the possibility there might not be any military evacuation flights, particularly from the provinces where hundreds of our former staff are in hiding, in the areas where the bulk of ADF troops were deployed prior to 2013.
“Most of these people simply don’t have a safe way of getting to Kabul and remain at extreme risk of brutal Taliban reprisals.”