Goulburn Valley Afghan community waits anxiously for humanitarian action

visa-afghaniDay and night news of the escalating atrocities committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan fills Goulburn Valley Afghan community members with dread, as they search desperately and, mostly fruitlessly, for ways to help loved ones trapped within the landlocked country’s borders.

The Taliban reclaimed total control of Afghanistan in August, 20 years since the extremist group was ousted by the United States and its allies. Every day since Abdullah Naveed has been fielding questions from the distressed Afghan community in Shepparton. “The community, they are putting pressure and have many questions, and I have no answers for them,” he said.

“What should I say?”

As a community development officer at the Ethnic Council of Shepparton, Mr Naveed is dedicated to representing the views and concerns of the Goulburn Valley’s large Afghan community, and has met with politicians and advocates to amplify their voices. Mr Naveed wishes he could tell people who have applied for humanitarian visas for their family or friends that help is on the way.

“But there are no answers,” he said.

The Federal Government has opened 3000 humanitarian visas for Afghans wanting to flee their home country, yet, a Senate inquiry in mid-November heard no humanitarian visas had been issued despite the government receiving more than 20,000 applications.

Mr Naveed and his wife Shakilla were both born into the Hazara community — one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in Afghanistan. They found a safe home in Shepparton in 2014, while today their extended family in Afghanistan hides from Taliban troops. “They (the Taliban) are free to do anything, no-one is there to ask why,” Mr Naveed said.

“The situation day-by-day is getting worse.”


Shakilla and Abdullah Naveed
Waiting for answers: Shakilla and Abdullah Naveed have received no updates about the status of the humanitarian visa applications they submitted for family members hiding in Kabul. Image: Rodney Braithwaite

From his office on Welsford St, Shepparton, Mr Naveed relays the detailed accounts he regularly hears of sexual assault, human trafficking, violence and abuse at the hands of the Taliban. “These are the things that no-one can believe are true in reality,“ he said.

Mr Naveed says persecuted families living in poverty are selling young daughters, in an unbearable attempt to find the money to keep their other children alive. Government officials, teachers, journalists, social workers and innocent civilians are among groups hunted and imprisoned or murdered. Ethnic minorities are forcefully displaced, hiding in the mountains without food or shelter and, as winter sets in, freezing temperatures become lethal.

Among the political leaders Mr Naveed has spoken to are Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum and City of Greater Shepparton Deputy Mayor Rob Priestly, who is running as an independent candidate for Nicholls at the next election. Mr Naveed said the politicians he has met with explained they have no power to stop the Taliban from inflicting harm overseas — there is little they can do to help. “I say it is very easy, we can help them. Issue the visa,” he said.

“The issue is the visa.”

The Federal Government has dedicated $27.1 million to an Afghan settlement package. In November, federal Immigration Minister Alex Hawke announced visa extensions for Afghan evacuees in Australia and for those who supported Australia’s mission in Afghanistan.

In a message to the Afghan Australian community, the Department of Home Affairs acknowledged the “tremendous distress that the ongoing situation in Afghanistan” was causing. The government was “looking at all possible avenues” to ensure that visa options through Australia’s humanitarian and migration programs continue to be available to all Afghan nationals, according to the online post.

The highest processing priority is being provided to applications from Afghanistan, with all applications assessed according to individual circumstances. Refugees in Victoria will be offered free legal assistance through a Victorian Government funding boost to support 1500 people, including new arrivals and their families affected by the Afghan humanitarian crisis.


Abdullah Naveed
Here to listen: Abdullah has been a sounding board for his community every day since the Taliban took control in Afghanistan.

Following meetings with Goulburn Valley leaders, Mr Drum said his office worked with Mr Hawke’s office and the Department of Home Affairs to discuss potential courses of action for Afghans seeking safety in Australia. “I stressed that the situation for many is critical and have been assured that a humanitarian visa application from someone who was closely involved with Australian forces will be escalated by the department,” he said.

“As Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has explained, applicants must continue to meet all visa criteria for character, security, and health — the safety and security of Australia remains an absolute priority of the Australian Government when processing visas.” Mr Priestly said there were no perfect answers to the question of how to safely evacuate Afghan refugees to Australia.

“Because it’s hard to solve, we don’t talk about it,” he said.

“I feel really strongly that we are a wealthy country, our region is desperate for labour, and the Afghan community have proven themselves to be valuable members of our community. “We need to have a conversation about how we behave as a country … We have a moral obligation to help.”

In the meantime, Mr Naveed keeps his phone nearby and his door open to visitors, although he knows he doesn’t have the information they seek. “They have to ask someone to answer their questions,” Mr Naveed said. “They cannot keep everything inside.”

People impacted by the Afghanistan crisis and needing legal assistance can call Refugee Legal on 9413 0166, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Further information is available at refugeelegal.org.au


Advocate: Abdullah Naveed is calling for the Federal Government to urgently issue humanitarian visas to Afghan refugees. Image: Rosa Ritchie


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