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Afghanistan - Humanitarian Tragedy

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tags: Refugees, Human Rights

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wanted to speak tonight about the unfolding humanitarian tragedy in Afghanistan and note your very thoughtful comments on this tragedy yesterday in your contribution. Within our own community, many of us who have watched on in horror have been devastated by what is unfolding in Afghanistan. We have seen the rapid withdrawal of US and allied forces; the arrival, the rapid takeover by the Taliban; the arrival of other dark and terrible forces; and we have seen the consequences for Afghan citizens.

The Taliban's history is defined by brutal repression, particularly towards minority groups and women and girls. It is also replete with anti intellectualism, complete intolerance towards culture and history, like the Bamiyan Buddhas, which the Taliban blew up more than a decade ago.

The Taliban has been making broad assurances that they would respect basic rights. Clearly these messages have been not much more than an attempt to placate the international community while all eyes are on Afghanistan. There have already been reports of Taliban soldiers hunting down people on their blacklist, people who helped international forces in the country. These are people who helped our people, who helped the Australian Defence Force.

It seems inevitable that in the coming weeks and months the situation in Afghanistan will deteriorate further and more people will face persecution. We have already seen more than 100 Afghan civilians killed in a single terrorist attack at Kabul Airport by ISIS-K and it is near certain that internal conflict will only intensify. Food prices have risen by 50 per cent in recent weeks and the UN is warning the country is facing a food crisis where one in three people will go hungry. International aid has mostly been shut out of the country. It is simply not safe.

The fate of millions of Afghans is in the balance. I know many in the community feel scared about what is to come, particularly our former humanitarian entrants from Afghanistan and most specifically are those members of the Hazara minority. These feelings within our community pale in comparison to the experience of our amazing Tasmanian Afghan community right now. I can only imagine how it must feel to be watching events in Afghanistan play out, knowing you have family and friends who are at immediate risk. I have friends in the Hazara community and I know this terrible stress.

Given the grave nature of this humanitarian crisis and Australia's involvement in the conflict, you would think our Government would be doing everything it could to help resettle Afghan refugees but there is no evidence yet that that is the case in Canberra. The Prime Minister has only committed to accepting 3000 Afghan refugees. This number will form part of our existing humanitarian intake, as we understand it. It is a zero sum game, meaning that other people might miss out. To put that number into perspective, more people are crossing the Afghan-Iranian border to seek refuge every single day than 3000.

Federally, the Greens have joined refugee advocacy organisations in calling on the Prime Minister to follow the lead of Canada and the UK in accepting at least 20 000 Afghan refugees on top of our humanitarian intake. This truly is the least we could do, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you said yesterday. This is a war of which we were very much a part but so far Mr Morrison is yet to budge. We believe it is time for Tasmania as a state to add our voice to the call for compassion.

The Tasmanian Greens acknowledge the Gutwein Government, its current contribution to Afghan resettlement processes, which involves our state accepting repatriation flights from the UK in order to free up quarantine space in other places for Afghans. That is a good start. We also recognise the Premier's statement that Afghan refugees are welcome here in Tasmania and I know he means that.

That is a good start too but we simply have to do more. We need to demand the Prime Minister increases the number of Afghan refugees Australia will accept. We need to keep rolling out those visas to people who need our help and we need to help them get here. We need to make it clear to the federal government that Afghan refugees are warmly welcome here in our beautiful island home and we should be encouraging the resettlement of as many Afghans as possible here in sanctuary Tasmania.

As a state, Tasmania has an opportunity to influence the decision-making taking place in Canberra. Of course, we do know it can be difficult for a state leader to contradict a federal leader of the same party but we know it has been done before. We have seen the Premier do this before when it has been necessary and we believe he can do it again. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. These really are the most desperate of times for the people of Afghanistan, battered as they are after decades of conflict and now living in terror of the Taliban and other terrorist forces that have moved in because natures abhors a vacuum.

It is no exaggeration to say that what we do now could save many lives and make a real difference to many more. With all our hearts and our complete support we urge the Premier to show both the compassion and the strength we know he is capable of and press the federal government to take many more humanitarian entrants from Afghanistan, and to make it clear Tasmania is ready to step up and provide a home for those fleeing the Taliban, ISIS-K, and a war zone we were very much a part of helping to create over the past 20 years.