By Aleksandra Bliszczyk
Veterans and residents across the Mitchell Shire have condemned the Federal Government’s response to the crisis in Afghanistan, where Afghan nationals who worked with the Australian Army are stranded and fearing for their lives under a Taliban regime.
Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said he had received a wave of emails and messages from constituents concerned for the safety of Afghan interpreters, drivers and diplomats who now face persecution for assisting Coalition forces against the Taliban during the past 20 years.
“We’ve had a lot of emails in particular in relation to the interpreters, who were local Afghans who worked with Australian soldiers,” Mr Mitchell said.
“They have been absolutely mistreated by this government [and] it genuinely disgusts me they’ve just been left behind.”
Following the withdrawal of US and Australian troops, the militant group seized control of the country this month, with the capital Kabul falling on August 15. It marked the beginning of a new Taliban regime, who had not been in control since before the US invasion in 2001.
The group emerged in the early 1990s in Pakistan after the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, but it was not until al-Qaeda’s September 11 attack on New York’s World Trade Centre that the Taliban drew global attention for providing sanctuary for the al-Qaeda movement’s leader Osama Bin Laden, leading to the beginning of the US-Afghanistan war.
Close to 30,000 Australia troops have served in Afghanistan, aided and protected by Afghans who are now in hiding or fleeing.
“It’s not something you should be doing to people who help you,” Kilmore-Wallan RSL president Rod Dally told the Review.
“They’ve got to try and get them out … you can’t take everybody, but the ones that helped, they’re in trouble now.”
Mr Dally, a Vietnam veteran, said the government had learnt nothing from the Vietnam war, which similarly saw thousands of Vietnamese people internally displaced and desperately fleeing Saigon in 1975.
The then Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser opened Australia’s door to Vietnamese refugees, resettling more than 100,000.
As of yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brought in 1000 Afghans after initially denying hundreds of visa applications.
“The government within half an hour can get visa for French au pairs for their friends, but for years these Afghan locals that have been fighting for us and wearing our uniform, have been left to rot and it is absolutely heartless by the government to do this,” Mr Mitchell said.
Of the Kilmore-Wallan RSL’s 405 members, 107 served in Afghanistan, and Mr Dally said most were unnerved by the government’s decisions.
“Most people are upset about it. There’s a general dissatisfaction that this has happened again – no lessons learnt anywhere on the way through,” he said.
Mr Mitchell said not providing protection to locals who worked with the Australian Army would hurt its reputation and standing in future conflicts.
“The message this sends on a foreign policy level, it’s one that greatly concerns us. If we go into conflict in the future, we go to countries, we’re asking locals to help, what are they going to say? Why would you risk your life for people who are going to just throw you to the scrap heap?” he said
“It’s really destroying our reputation globally. And instead of being pigheaded, it’s about doing the right thing for people who need help.”
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