Afghan women request Australia for visas

Women’s rights defenders who fled the Taliban in Afghanistan are facing the risk of deportation to Afghanistan by Pakistani authorities, prompting appeals for urgent intervention from the Australian government to expedite their protection visas. Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August 2021, over 215,000 humanitarian visa requests from Afghan nationals have been submitted to the Australian government, resulting in 15,852 visas granted by December 2023.

However, more than 30,000 Afghan nationals currently residing in Pakistan are confronting the threat of mass deportation back to Taliban rule by local authorities. With only 26,500 available places for Afghan nationals in Australia through 2026, the Department of Home Affairs is prioritizing “vulnerable cohorts within refugee populations,” leading to uncertainties and concerns among women’s rights defenders and their families.

Soroya Rahmat, a former law professor in Kabul and a women’s rights advocate, is among those facing imminent return to Afghanistan. After receiving threats from the Taliban, she and her family fled to Pakistan, where they live in constant fear of discovery and retaliation. Despite applying for an Australian visa over two-and-a-half years ago, Rahmat is losing hope of a timely resolution, emphasizing the challenges and dangers they face in Pakistan.

Rahila Askari, a 23-year-old women’s leadership advocate, also fears deportation from Pakistan to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Having co-founded the Afghanistan chapter of Girl Up and spoken out against the Taliban at Kabul University, Askari risks imprisonment and torture if forced to return. The Pakistani authorities have warned her about an expiring visa, heightening concerns for her safety.

Pakistan’s crackdown on undocumented foreigners, affecting approximately 2 million Afghans, has led to the removal of at least 200,000 individuals. The Australian federal government acknowledges the high priority of cases like Rahmat and Askari but has faced criticism for allegedly not prioritizing urgent help for these women. Susan Hutchinson, founder of the women’s rights defenders advocacy group Azadi-e Zan, expressed frustration over the government’s lack of response to urgent cases.

The Australian government has granted 15,852 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals since Kabul’s fall, with over 50,000 protection visa requests rejected. Priority is given to those who worked as locally engaged employees before the Taliban’s rule, their families, and vulnerable groups such as women, girls, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals. However, concerns persist over the government’s response to urgent cases and communication with advocacy groups.

The immigration minister, Andrew Giles, declined to comment, redirecting inquiries to the Department of Home Affairs. The situation highlights the complexities and challenges faced by Afghan refugees seeking safety and protection amid evolving geopolitical circumstances.

Susan Hutchinson, founder of the women’s rights defenders advocacy group Azadi-e Zan, expressed frustration over the government’s lack of response to urgent cases.

The Australian government has granted 15,852 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals since Kabul’s fall, with over 50,000 protection visa requests rejected. Priority is given to those who worked as locally engaged employees before the Taliban’s rule, their families, and vulnerable groups such as women, girls, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+ individuals. However, concerns persist over the government’s response to urgent cases and communication with advocacy groups.

The immigration minister, Andrew Giles, declined to comment, redirecting inquiries to the Department of Home Affairs. The situation highlights the complexities and challenges faced by Afghan refugees seeking safety and protection amid evolving geopolitical circumstances.

The federal government, acknowledging the urgency of cases like Soroya Rahmat and Rahila Askari, faces criticism for not providing adequate support and expediting protection visas for these women who are at immediate risk. Despite the total number of humanitarian visas granted, the significant backlog of cases, particularly in Pakistan, poses a pressing humanitarian concern.

Rahmat, a former law professor who ran a legal clinic for women in Kabul, detailed the threats her family faced from the Taliban. Fleeing to Pakistan, they have lived in constant fear, moving houses and hiding to avoid detection. However, Rahmat’s authorization to remain in Pakistan is expiring soon, and the lack of progress on her Australian visa application adds to the uncertainty.

Similarly, Rahila Askari, a women’s leadership advocate, fears deportation from Pakistan to Afghanistan and the potential dangers awaiting her there. The Australian protection visa she applied for in April 2023 is still pending, leaving her in a precarious situation.

The broader issue extends beyond these individual cases, encompassing the plight of more than 30,000 Afghan nationals in Pakistan facing deportation risks. The Australian government’s commitment to prioritizing “vulnerable cohorts within refugee populations” underscores the importance of addressing the specific needs and risks faced by women’s rights defenders and other at-risk individuals.

As advocates like Susan Hutchinson call for urgent government intervention, the fate of these Afghan women’s rights defenders remains uncertain. The ongoing challenges underscore the need for a comprehensive and expedited approach to processing protection visas and ensuring the safety of those at immediate risk in the aftermath of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan.

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