Who is behind the campaign?
The church is one body with many parts. Christians United for Afghanistan reflects this – we are a coalition of Australian Christians, churches, denominations and organisations from all states, sectors, and perspectives – facilitated by Micah Australia. You can see our members here.
You, your church, and your Christian organisations are invited to be part of this campaign. We are calling urgently for the Australian church in all forms to come together and contribute in the ways that each of us are uniquely gifted for.
Our diverse Christian coalition is being directly informed by organisations who work with people who have come to Australia through our humanitarian program, and who are closely connected to the Afghan community. These include the Refugee Council of Australia and others.
Why start another petition when others already exist?
We aim to unite the clear voice of Australia’s broad Christian church not to speak over others, but to join our voice with theirs in harmony.
Our calls to welcome, protect, reunite and support Afghan people were designed to align with those of the Afghan Australian Advocacy Network, the Refugee Council of Australia, Baptist World Aid Australia, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, along with major Australian denominations. By drawing together a Christian coalition, we aim to be salt and light in Australia’s response to the Afghanistan situation – bringing a distinct Christian voice, and shining light into a dark situation.
How can Christians and Churches safeguard Afghan people when speaking about about the situation in Afghanistan? Are there things we should avoid?
Keeping people from becoming targets can save lives. Reports indicate families of Afghan people seen to speak out or to be associated with public campaigns may be at risk. We encourage churches and campaign partners to follow DFAT’s guidance and avoid sharing “identifiable images/content of Afghan women and girls, their families & communities and temporarily remove or replace any existing imagery and information that can be used to identify people – e.g. faces, names, ages, location. This should apply to all websites, recent social media posts, reports or products coming out.”
Conflict zones are where vulnerable people need humanitarian assistance most, and humanitarian action is impossible if aid workers are seen as taking a side in the conflict. The safety of aid workers and their ability to continue providing vital support to displaced Afghan people requires neutrality, impartiality and independence from groups contesting control of Afghanistan. Christians United For Afghanistan is on the side of vulnerable Afghan people in Australia, Afghanistan, and those displaced elsewhere, and calls on all parties to respect and protect the human rights of Afghan people.
What has Australia’s government announced so far?
The Australian Government announced on 18 August 2021 that an initial 3,000 humanitarian places will be allocated to Afghan nationals within Australia’s annual program, which currently provides 13,750 places annually. Prime Minister Morrison has described this 3000 figure as “A floor, not a ceiling”.
They anticipate this initial allocation will increase further over the course of 2021-22 and said they will give first priority to Afghan nationals within the offshore humanitarian program and afford them visa processing priority in the year ahead.
To date, Prime Minister Morrison has said that Afghans who are in the Australian community on Temporary Protection Visas would not be asked to return to Afghanistan but would not be offered permanent residency.
Since the 18th of August, Australia has evacuated over 1,000 people through ADF flights, which have since halted . This includes Australia and New Zealand nationals, Afghan visa holders and foreign nationals.
The Government has said that their ‘top priority continues to be ensuring the safe departure of Australian citizens and visa holders and also working with our friends and partners to support one another’s evacuation operations.’
Why are Christians calling for an additional intake of people, rather than offering safety within the existing intake cap?
Everyone deserves safety from those who would persecute them. Over 82 million people are displaced globally – the most since World War 2. Australia has made commitments to welcome 13,750 people annually – already a reduction of 5000 from last year. At the end of July, there were 32,877 applications for refugee status determination pending, and around 950 being processed per month and applications taking over a year. Many of these men, women and children are waiting in unsafe situations for approval. None deserve to be kept in danger a moment longer than necessary. An additional special intake is the common-sense way to protect Afghan people without compromising the safety of others.
Extraordinary times call for an additional intake. Prime Minister Fraser made such a commitment in the 1970s when the people of Vietnam needed help. Prime Minister Abbott took a special intake as people fled Syria in 2015. Fleeing from danger, these people all made a life in our communities. It is time for Australia to live up to its own standard and announce a special intake to welcome and protect Afghan people.
Why not start with 3,000 people, then wait and see what is possible?
Every hour counts. Afghan people don’t have time for Australia and the world to wait and see – they need to make decisions now about finding safety. Over 550,000 Afghans have already fled their homes this year – 80% of them women and children. The sooner Australia can send a clear message, the sooner they can find protection and safety.
Afghan people living in Australia need assurance that Australia cares about their loved ones back home, and is providing their parents, husbands, sisters and children a path from the dangers of their homes to the safety of a family reunions on Australian soil.
Both Canada and the UK have already acted quickly and committed to welcome 20,000 Afghan people each. By doing the right thing and joining them, Australia will provide a positive example for other wealthy nations to welcome their fair share of people. The sooner, the better.
What is the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan?
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is dire with 14 million at risk of food insecurity, 2.5 million people seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and over half a million internally displaced. A severe protracted drought and the COVID-19 pandemic underline and exacerbate crisis conditions. Women and children, and people living with disabilities face particularly acute risks. Australia must continue to provide humanitarian assistance on a scale commensurate with need. That means at least double our existing funding commitment, with a commitment to stay the course and provide assistance over the long term. Without this much-needed support, we will see further deterioration in hard-won development gains in education, health and women’s rights, and we also face a high likelihood of state-collapse, broader refugee crisis and regional instability.
Isn’t the Government already working incredibly hard in a difficult situation?
We’ve all seen it: Australians respond tirelessly in a crisis. Government staff have been working around the clock to address the situation in Afghanistan as it changes hour by hour. The current crisis is difficult enough without the fiddly complexity of allocating limited numbers of humanitarian places within a small existing cap. Providing 20,000 additional places can give much-needed certainty to both Afghans and Government workers that Australia will be ready when applications come.
Now is a time to free Government and humanitarian staff focus on action, not to get tied up in admin. That said, where staffing shortages and logistical issues threaten to delay swift action, Australia’s Government should provide operational support.
How can we protect so many people when the situation at the airport is so precarious?
Australia should base its protection of Afghan people on a long-term commitment to protect and welcome Afghan people and families, not on the short-term constraints of Kabul’s airport, where over 60 people have tragically been killed through terrorism and other violence at the time of writing. Travel through checkpoints to the airport may also be unsafe, particularly for women and people with a target on their back. Many Afghan people will find it safer to cross a border than to leave Afghanistan through the airport over the coming months.
Afghan people fearing persecution should feel confident to exercise their rights to leave Afghanistan any way they can, knowing countries like Australia are working to get them to refuge. This is especially true for relatives of Afghan people in Australia, who are at greater risk of being targeted. Australia has joined 60 other countries to call on the Taliban to allow for safe and orderly travel out of Afghanistan for those who wish to leave. Supporting this call with a commitment to a special intake with room for 20,000 people that does not rely on the airport alone will help more Afghans reach safety.
How can we protect people from conflict and disease in the midst of a global pandemic?
Even moving quickly, it will take some time to bring 20,000 people to Australia – the vast majority will likely arrive well after Australia is scheduled to reach target vaccination rates identified in the Government’s Doherty COVID modelling. In the interim, we call on the Australian Government to continue taking steps to safeguard the health of both new Afghan arrivals and the Australian community.
Why is granting permanent protection to Afghans already in Australia on temporary and other visas so important?
Australia should be flying people out of Afghanistan, not flying them in. The Australian Government has already found people on Temporary Protection Visas to be refugees in need of safety. It is clear that the Afghans living in Australia as recognised refugees are not able to return to Afghanistan. The Australian Government has recognised this, and announced that people would have their temporary visas extended – we welcome this.
Returning people at risk of persecution to Afghanistan is not safe now, and is not likely to become safe with time. Many Afghan people whose visas have been extended still fear the very real possibility of eventually being returned to an Afghanistan where they will not be safe. Extending visas is a good first step, but granting permanent protection for all our Afghan neighbours is the common sense response to the new reality in Afghanistan, and will provide them much-needed certainty.
What about families split between Australia and Afghanistan?
Families should be able to reunite, especially when forces beyond their control make staying at home impossible. Afghan people, many of whom have been living in Australian communities for years, have reported well-founded fears that their relatives in Afghanistan may be targeted for retribution or extortion. Australia should take all necessary steps to reunite these families.
This is especially true for the family members of people with temporary protection: as one family member has already been found to be a refugee, it is clear that their family members need safety from persecution as well. Many people on temporary visas in Australia have been in Australia for at least 8 years and have not been able to reunite with their spouses, children, siblings, and parents. Family members were already at risk before the Taliban came back into full power. Now troubling reports indicate there is grave concern for families still in Afghanistan. Allowing refugees on temporary visas to bring their families to Australia and be together again will save many lives.
What is Australia already providing in humanitarian aid, and how can more aid be given effectively?
The complexity of the situation in Afghanistan makes it all the more important for Australia to proactively increase aid to the region. While the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has been disruptive, both the international community and some organisations on the ground have the capacity to provide aid – a capacity that will be strengthened over the coming months. Several organisations with female staff have reported that they are in productive discussions with the Taliban about continuing operations.
The current funding shortfall is large. The UNHCR’s Supplementary Appeal for the Afghanistan Situation has identified a need for US$62.8 million to support internally displaced people in Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries. These requirements are part of a US$351 million requirement for the Afghanistan situation, which remains drastically underfunded at 43 percent. Australia should proactively engage in humanitarian support, both within Afghanistan and in the region.
How can churches help welcome and settle refugees?
Christians want to be part of the solution. Many Australian churches and organisations already run valuable programs supporting people in their local area who arrived as refugees. However, Australia does not currently have the kind of Community Sponsorship mechanisms that exist in Canada and elsewhere to enable churches to engage deeply in the Christian practice of welcoming people fleeing persecution.
Many Australian churches have called on Australia’s Government to institute a Community Sponsorship program. This would allow churches and other community groups to sponsor refugees to join Australian communities, while also taking responsibility for supporting them to find work, housing, and establish social connections. Christians United for Afghanistan supports the funding and implementation of Community Sponsorship in Australia.
Why are there not more Afghan spokepeople for this campaign?
Protecting people is our overwhelming concern. For many Afghan people, speaking out carries risks of reprisals for family and friends still in Afghanistan. The Department of Foreign Affairs has issued guidance warning about the use of names or images identifying Afghan people. While it is usually best for people to speak for themselves, Christians United for Afghanistan are taking steps to be directly informed by Afghan people in Australia, while safeguarding them and their families.
How can we welcome Afghan people when Australians are still stranded overseas?
As Christians, we know the importance of going out to bring in every lost and forgotten sheep, and we know how to celebration when we are reunited again.
Many families learned the heartache of separation recently. The difficulties of travel in the COVID era have left some people stranded overseas, and Australians responded to their stories with empathy and care. Whether it’s COVID or conflict keeping people apart, family reunification is important. As vaccination rates rise, travellers return and Australia begins a special intake, more and more families will be reunited for that first hug on Australia soil. That is not a cause for division and competition – it is a celebration we can have together.