Monday, 23 August 2021
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Smith for his question. The situation in Afghanistan remains dangerous and volatile a week after the Taliban entered the capital, Kabul. We have all been devastated by the return of the Taliban, but we are focused squarely on the challenges ahead of us: ensuring the safe evacuation of Australians and holders of Australian visas, and working with the international community to continue supporting the people of Afghanistan.
The instability certainly makes our work all the more difficult. Nevertheless, we are working closely and very well with our US, UK, German and other partners at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in one of the most challenging people movements we have undertaken for decades. We're absolutely focused on bringing out every Australian and Australian visa holder that we possibly can. Cooperation does continue to be the key, and we'll continue working closely with our partners for as long as we are able to, to get people out.
There is discussion, as we have seen, about the prospect of the US extending its withdrawal deadline. We are part of those discussions, and we are absolutely ready to continue to support a continuing operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The international community is watching the Taliban for its acts of injustice. It must observe all of its obligations to uphold international law and human rights. We call on the Taliban, and continue to call on the Taliban, to cease all violence against civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law and the human rights to which all Afghans are entitled—in particular, women and girls.
This is an immensely difficult situation. It is terrifying and distressing for every person and every family trying to get to the airport, and for everyone worried about family members, friends, colleagues and contacts. It's a huge task being undertaken by Australian personnel.
Again, I thank Senator Smith. Since 18 August we have evacuated over 1,000 people on 12 flights, including Australian and New Zealand nationals, Australian visa holders and foreign nationals. In the last 24 hours we have evacuated over 450 people from Kabul on four ADF flights.
We have a significant presence on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport, including Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officers, Australian Defence Force personnel, Department of Home Affairs officials and Australian Border Force members.
I thank every single one of those women and men for the extraordinary job they are doing. We have evacuated not just our own people but people on behalf of the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand as well as Fiji. Many of you know from talking to my office, the Minister for Defence's office, the Minister for Home Affairs's office, the minister for immigration's office and our consular team what a task is being undertaken. I thank all colleagues, members and senators, for their engagement on behalf of so many Australians and Afghanis— (Time expired)
The Morrison government will maintain our support for the people of Afghanistan through this crisis and beyond in the coming years, working closely with other donors to identify and respond to the most pressing needs. Our $50 million bilateral program will focus on the immediate crisis and increasingly on humanitarian outcomes, including in response to the current drought, and on internal displacement, COVID-19 and economic stability, all factors exacerbating the situation in Afghanistan right now.
We are working closely with our longstanding partners, including the World Food Programme, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Population Fund. We have committed $5 million to the UNHCR supplementary appeal to assist internally displaced Afghanis and support those neighbouring countries hosting Afghani refugees. We will continue to work with the international community to hold the Taliban to account and to support the people of Afghanistan.