Australia must extend hand to Afghans in need

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“We want all Afghans, from all walks of life, to see themselves in a future Islamic system with a responsible government that serves and is acceptable to all, God willing.”

This is how the Taliban announced their arrival in Kabul in August 2021, as they resumed their rule after 20 years of war against the US-led coalition that included Australia. At the time, the great question was the extent to which the movement’s leadership might have changed their outlook over two decades of adversity.

Last week’s decision to bar women from universities, swiftly followed by the Christmas Eve announcement that domestic and international NGOs should suspend their female employees, gave us our answer.

As the protests of extraordinarily courageous women and men in the days since show us, there is nothing Islamic or Afghan about these decisions. All over the world, observant Muslim women, wearing hijab or choosing not to, are availing themselves of full educations and embarking upon careers that enhance the nations they call home and the families they belong to, creating a platform that propels boys and girls to greater heights. To reinforce their grip on power, the Taliban have turned their back on this wellspring of life and progress.

In a joint NGO response with Save the Children and CARE International, the Norwegian Refugee Council noted in its decision to suspend its activities that “without women driving our response, we would not have jointly reached millions of Afghans in need since August 2021”.

Afghanistan is already in a dire state, with more than 20 million people dependent on foreign aid. The Taliban’s return has slowed donations and hampered aid distribution. Using economic sanctions to discourage their misogynistic policies is only likely to compound this crisis.

Beyond outrage and despair, what options do those watching this misery unfold from Australia have? It is hoped, Christmas is not yet totally in our rearview mirror, because the first simple step is to tell those Afghans living precariously among us that there is room at the inn.

That means granting permanent residency to more than 5000 Afghans living on temporary protection visas and expediting the family reunification applications of Afghans who are already accepted as refugees. We should ensure that those interpreters and other personnel so crucial to Australian operations in Afghanistan who are still waiting for the Taliban to knock on their doors are made our highest priority for resettlement.

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