Government admits Afghanistan humanitarian visa backlog, stops short of lifting visa cap

Concerns remain over the number of Afghan visas yet to be processed by Australia a year on from the fall of the capital Kabul to the Taliban.
The federal government is looking at other visa pathways but Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has stopped short of saying it will raise of 31,500 for Afghans.
More than 40,000 applications covering over 211,000 people have been lodged.

But only around 6,000 permanent visas have been granted in total, Mr Giles says.

“My first focus is on ensuring we meet this obligation, we find places and safety for 31,500 people to rebuild their lives,” he told the ABC when asked about lifting the cap.
“The government is exploring a number of other visa pathways for people from Afghanistan.”
This includes increasing the humanitarian intake more broadly and expanding community sponsorship of refugees by 5,000 additional places, Mr Giles says.
“We are committed over time to raising the overall humanitarian intake,” he said.

“But my focus right now is on ensuring we fill those places.”

Afghan people climb atop a plane as they wait at Kabul airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on 16 August, 2021. It’s been a year since the fall of the country’s capital to the Taliban. Source: Getty, AFP / Wakil Kohsar

Extra resources have since been directed to help process but no time frame has been put on clearing the applications.

“The demand has been absolutely overwhelming … and each and every one of these applications needs to be appropriately registered so they can be dealt with properly,” Mr Giles said.
“The backlog is being progressed quite quickly. I’m determined that while the scale of this is overwhelming, we’re not overwhelmed by our response to it.

“We have put on additional staff to deal with the backlog and additional staff to deal with issues that relate to family reunion, affecting people from Afghanistan as well.”

Despite the inundation of applications a year on from the Taliban capturing Kabul, Mr Giles says he doesn’t lay blame at the feet of the former government.
“I don’t know if it’s fair to say to the former government we knew the number of people that were going to be applying. The circumstances that happened about a year ago happen very, very quickly,” he said.
“The volume of demand is extraordinary and I think it’s fair to say was unprecedented.”

“Each of these individuals covered by the applications needs to be properly registered and that takes time because we’re prioritising locally engaged employees, women and girls and members of minority groups.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said the government would consider a review of the operation of the Afghan Locally Engaged Employees program, which grants visas for those who worked for Australia, including as interpreters.
“The government will also mark the anniversary of the fall of Kabul in parliament,” Senator Wong said.

“We will mark this anniversary formally when parliament next sits.”

Woman chanting and holding signs.

Afghan women chant “Bread, work and freedom” during a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan on 13 August 13, 2022. Concerns remain over the Taliban’s suppression of women’s rights. Source: AFP, Getty / Nava Jamshidi

It comes as human rights groups continue to air concerns about Taliban rule in Afghanistan, including the clamping down on peaceful protests, suppression of women’s rights and executions and disappearances.

A new Amnesty International briefing expresses contempt for widespread injustices and impunity for crimes such as torture, revenge killings and forced evictions of opponents of the Taliban.
Amnesty International’s South Asia regional director Yamini Mishra has renewed calls for the international community to hold the Taliban accountable.
“A year ago, the Taliban made public commitments to protect and promote human rights. Yet … women and girls have been stripped of their rights and face a bleak future, deprived of education or the possibility of taking part in public life,” she said.
“Arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, summary executions have returned as the order of the day.
“Any hopes of change have quickly evaporated as the Taliban seek to govern through violent repression with full impunity.”

SBS News has contacted the Coalition’s immigration spokesman Dan Tehan for comment.

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