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  • John McDonnell

Afghan workers left to die

Afghanis who worked on Australian aid projects have been abandoned by the Australian government because of a legal technicality.

Although they have worked on aid projects for decades, these workers have been deemed to be independent contractors or sub-contractors rather than employees. This means they are ineligible for locally engaged employee (LEE) visas.

At the present time, the federal government has issued 268 LEE visas to people nominated by DFAT and the Department of Defence as former employees in Afghanistan.

The aid workers were involved in projects in Oruzgan province that were designed to reduce the influence of the Taliban, such as schools for girls and health centres.

The Taliban now controls five of the six districts in Oruzgan and it is calling out aid workers as traitors who should be executed for undermining the Islamist cause. Fifteen aid workers have disappeared so far.

The persecution of aid workers has been exacerbated by the allegations of war crimes against Australian soldiers who were operating in Oruzgan province. The Taliban are asserting that aid workers are accessories to war crimes against innocent Afghans and so, they say, justice demands they be executed.

The Afghan workers who have been rejected for LEE visas have been advised that they are eligible to apply for asylum seeker visas, which means that they can join the queue with all the other asylum seekers around the world. The likely outcome is that they will wait for years for their applications to be processed while living in jeopardy in Afghanistan.

The attitude of the government in these circumstances contrasts with that of the Fraser government after the Vietnam war.

In that case, the Australian government opened the borders to all the Vietnamese who had worked for the Australians even though the Vietnamese regime was far more benign than the Taliban.

American military experts have been surprised at the speed of the Taliban overrun of Afghanistan. Even though the Afghan army has more men and equipment than the insurgents they are being defeated in almost every encounter. They are not being supported by the Afghan people, even the Tajik portion of the population.

The only conclusion is that the twenty-year campaign by the United States and its allies has been totally ineffective.

In these circumstances, it is callous of Canberra bureaucrats to refuse visas for Afghan workers, and their families, who were prominently involved in our humanitarian program in Oruzgan.


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