Interim Report: Inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan
10 February 2022
On 21 January 2022, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade published an interim report into its inquiry into Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan.
While the terms of reference for the inquiry encompass aspects of Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan, the adequacy of its preparation for withdrawal, and how the Australian Government should respond to recent developments in Afghanistan to protect Australia’s national security, the Law Council’s submission focussed on Australia’s obligations and actions now, particularly in relation to Afghans who have already sought asylum in Australia and in relation to Afghans who may seek asylum in the future. In addition to making a written submission, the Law Council appeared at a hearing before the Committee.
A number of the Law Council’s submissions were quoted in the Committee’s interim report and appear to have contributed to recommendations made by the Committee.
Notably, with respect to the issues addressed by the Law Council:
- In relation to obligations to Afghans in Australia, the Committee:
- stated that the ‘Government should work to abolish Temporary Protection Visas’ and that ‘clear avenues for review should also be open for cases that are currently before the immigration authorities and the AAT, given the changed security circumstances and the inability of many to return’; and
- recommended that ‘in light of the changed security circumstances in Afghanistan, the Australian Government review its policies for pathways to permanent protection visas for Afghan asylum seekers and refugees currently in Australia, and prioritise family reunification when processing humanitarian visa claims from Afghan nationals’ (recommendation 7);
- In relation to resettlement of Afghan asylum seekers, the Committee:
- stated that the ‘Australia should match its coalition partners in committing to a substantial intake of Afghan refugees’ and ‘should play a global leadership role in the resettlement of Afghan nationals given Australia’s role in the conflict and the scale of the humanitarian need’; and
- recommended that the Australian Government work with coalition partners and international organisations to support the resettlement of Afghan nationals globally, with Australia making a contribution of places within the humanitarian, family, skilled and other permanent visa categories to help resettle those Afghan nationals displaced by the crisis (recommendation 6).
While the Committee’s final report is ostensibly due in the first week of the February 2022 sitting period, it held another set of public hearings earlier this week, so it is expected the final report will not be published until later in the year.
Finally, it is noted that in is 2022-23 Pre-Budget submission to The Treasury, the Law Council called on the Australian Government to increase the target for the Humanitarian Program above the ceiling of 13,750 places allocated for the 2021-22 financial year to ensure that its commitment to allocate 13,000 places to Afghans over the next four years does not come at the expense of persons of other nationalities who have been assessed, for example, by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, as highly vulnerable and in need of protection.