Australia defends Afghan refugee numbers

An RAAF C-130 Hercules has successfully evacuated people from Kabul airport. Photo: ADF/Twitter.

Australia has defended offering 3000 humanitarian places to Afghans fleeing the Taliban despite other nations pledging intakes more than six times the figure.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke expects the federal government’s initial commitment could rise to 5000 as the situation unfolds in Afghanistan.

“What we do is announce figures that we believe we’re actually going to place and then we increase them,” he told Sky News on Thursday.

The United Kingdom and Canada have promised to grant safe haven to 20,000 refugees looking to escape the new regime which swept to power after allied forces withdrew.

“There are other countries who’ve taken different approaches,” Mr Hawke said.

“They’ve said 20,000 when they actually will take 5000 in the first year and the 20,000 is down the track.”

The minister said Australia’s annual humanitarian intake cap of 13,750 was among the most generous in the world.

World Vision is among groups calling on Australia to create an additional 20,000 humanitarian visas for people fleeing Afghanistan.

More than 300 organisations have signed an open letter saying the government has a moral duty to the Afghan people.

Australia’s first rescue mission to evacuate citizens, permanent residents and Afghans who helped allied forces during the war lifted 26 people out of Kabul.

But air force and army personnel face a dangerous situation to ramp up efforts in coming days with violence and predicted poor weather sparking chaos.

Mr Hawke urged the Taliban to allow anyone with visas or paperwork allowing them to enter a foreign country not to stand in the way of departures.

Labor has criticised the government for not doing enough to help Afghan interpreters and other staff leave the country after they had helped Australian troops.

Senior opposition frontbencher Tony Burke said Labor first questioned the coalition’s efforts in 2018 before ramping up calls in recent months.

“I don’t want this to be yet another example of too little too late. But we are seeing it across the board,” he told Sky.

“We have a national interest in sending a message to the world that if you help Australia, we won’t abandon you.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said some visa applications would take time because of the complexity of identity and other checks.

He said he was aware of some Afghans who had worked with Australian officials and switched their allegiance to the Taliban.

– Matt Coughlan Australian Associated Press

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