Photo: Refugee Council of Australia

HRW urges Australia to prioritize humanitarian visas for Afghanistan refugees

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Australian government to prioritize humanitarian visas for refugees from Afghanistan who are forced to flee the Taliban and to process applications with greater flexibility.

In a statement on Thursday, Daniela Gavshon, HRW’s Australia director, called on the Australian government to increase the overall allocation of humanitarian visas for citizens of Afghanistan and to waive administrative barriers that are preventing people from fleeing the country.

“The last two years have seen Afghanistan plunge into one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises,” Gavshon said. “Two-thirds of the population face hunger and at least three million children suffer acute malnutrition. The country also has one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates, and thousands of women die from pregnancy-related causes, the majority of them preventable,” she added.

She said that the Australian government has the ability to help refugees who are fleeing the Taliban, but it needs to be more flexible in its visa processing.

“If rescue of the most vulnerable is the goal, refugee resettlement programs need the agility to innovate and adapt,” she said. “The more difficult the circumstances, the greater the need for flexibility.”

“Time and time again when the Australian government has the will, it can find solutions and act quickly,” she said. “But on this issue, the government has been slow to act,” she added.

The Australian government has allocated 26,500 humanitarian visa places for Afghan refugees for the following five years following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. However, according to Human Rights Watch, as of May 2023, only about half of these places have been granted.

Currently, thousands of refugees from Afghanistan are waiting in neighbouring countries and Indonesia to receive humanitarian visas and immigrate to Australia.

The process of asylum requests for refugees fleeing the Taliban in other countries has also been criticized for being slow and uncertain. Human rights organizations have said that asylum seekers are often left in a state of limbo, not knowing when or if their applications will be processed.