Sat. May 18th, 2024

Australia’s scheme to resettle Afghan interpreters will soon end. Those still in the queue fear ‘abandonment’

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May10,2024
Key Points
  • The Afghan Locally Engaged Employee (LEE) program was established in 2012 and will be terminated on 31 May.
  • As the program’s deadline approaches, Afghan interpreters remaining in Afghanistan say they fear for their futures.
  • Meanwhile, the Department of Home Affairs says it is “committed to finalising all certifications and visa applications for Afghan LEE and their families as a matter of priority.”
Last year, the federal government announced it would close the on 31 May.
Established in 2012, the scheme has provided an asylum pathway for Afghans who face harm in their homeland due to their work with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) during the decades-long war.
With the deadline looming, Ali* says he is “deeply concerned” for his family’s future as he awaits an update on his visa applications.

Following his work as an interpreter for the ADF in the Uruzgan province between 2008 and 2010, Ali obtained certification of his service from the Department of Defence in 2022 – the first step before an applicant can apply for a resettlement visa.

He then submitted a visa application, before undergoing a health examination in Afghanistan and was subsequently advised by an Australian government representative to undergo a biometrics assessment “at the nearest centre”.
However, he missed his appointment window because his children didn’t have passports to travel to a third country such as Pakistan to undergo the test.
“When they scheduled an appointment for us at that time, both of my children didn’t have passports. For approximately two years, I was waiting for passports and luckily, three days ago, my daughter received her passport, but my son still hasn’t received his,” he told SBS Pashto.

“After scheduling the appointment for us, I responded to their email, stating that my children do not have passports and I am in trouble. I thought [Home Affairs] would find a solution for me, but they haven’t responded to my email.”

Afghan LEE_ Ali.jpg

Ali* (centre) worked as an interpreter with the Australian Defence Force in Uruzgan province between 2008 and 2010. Credit: Supplied

Ali said that since the Taliban came to power in August 2021, he and his family’s problems “have increased” and if the Afghan interpreters who still hadn’t received Australian visas remained in Afghanistan, their “hopes, lives and everything will be destroyed”.

“I was concerned in the past, but since I understand that this program will terminate on 31 May, my concerns have reached an unprecedented level,” he said.
“My demand of the Australian government is (for them to understand) that the Afghan interpreters who still remain in Afghanistan are in a dire situation. They should prioritise processing their applications first.

“In this situation, only the Australian government can assist us and should help us as soon as possible.”

‘Committed to finalising all (existing) applications’

Since 2013, under the program, 896 applications to the Department of Defence have been approved for certification.
These have included applicants from diverse employment backgrounds including interpreters, service providers such as security guards, labourers, cooks and cleaners, and mine clearance workers.

In order to qualify for Afghan LEE certification, individuals must provide proof that they worked with the ADF and are facing harm due to that work.

A Defence spokesperson told SBS Pashto that despite the 31 May deadline, the department would continue assessing existing cases.
Furthermore, a spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs confirmed that the government was “committed to finalising all certifications and visa applications for Afghan LEE and their families as a matter of priority”.

SBS Pashto understands that as of 26 April, there were 189 applications in the processing stage with the department.

To meet its commitment to Afghan LEE applicants, the Australian government is continuing work to assess and finalise all applications.

Department of Home Affairs

New applications for certification under the Program closed on 30 November.
Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, between 15 August 2021 and 31 March this year, 18,348 permanent humanitarian visas have been granted to Afghan citizens under the offshore Humanitarian Program, including more than 2,800 visas granted to Afghan LEE.
The Home Affairs spokesperson said certified applicants under the program were given, “top priority for processing their visa applications”.
“The department will continue to process humanitarian visa applications from certified Afghan LEE as a priority within the humanitarian program regardless of the closure of the certification component of the Afghan LEE program.
“The closure date for the Afghan LEE program relates to applying for LEE certification only and does not impact subsequent humanitarian visa applications.
“Certified Afghan LEE and their immediate family members are given the highest processing priority within the humanitarian program.”
The spokesperson added that the initial plan was to complete the assessment of certification applications by 31 May, but due to the volume of applications, “this timeline will not be met”.
“Not being certified has no adverse impact on an individual’s suitability to obtain an Australian visa. 
“Individuals who are not certified under the Afghan Locally Engaged Employee Program may still apply for a humanitarian visa. However, applications from individuals who are not certified may not receive priority processing.”

As part of the 2024 Federal Budget, the government has put aside $27 million over three years for youth support, specialised support services for women experiencing domestic violence and settlement support for Afghan humanitarian visa holders.

‘We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Aussies’

Ahmad* worked as a labourer with the ADF in the Deh Rawood district of Uruzgan from 2009 to 2011, before working as an interpreter in Tarin Kot in 2012 and 2013.
He said he had been waiting for seven years to be certified by the Department of Defence for his service, having initially submitted an unsuccessful application in 2017.

He lodged a second application but is still waiting on the outcome.

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Ahmad* (right) claims he has been waiting approval for interpreter certification for nearly seven years. Credit: Supplied

He and other interpreters who had worked with the ADF face “extremely difficult situations and conditions”, he explained, affirming that it was up to Australia “not to abandon them” in Afghanistan.

“We [interpreters] worked alongside the brave Australian forces, considering Australia as our own country and its forces as our own,” he said.
“We never thought that the Australian government would leave us alone and would not grant us protection in Australia, because we worked shoulder-to-shoulder with them in difficult conditions.

“If [Australians] leave us in Afghanistan, the Taliban and other terrorists will kill us and our families. We urge the Australian government to approve our applications and grant us protection in Australia.”

AFGHANISTAN AUST TROOPS

ADF engineer Captain Rodney Davis (left) and interpreter Micheal (right) on patrol in Sorkh Lez. Source: AAP / CORPORAL RACHEL INGRAM/PR IMAGE

Jamshed*, a former ADF interpreter whose visa application was successful following a processing period of two years, is now waiting for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to arrange his flights to Australia.

“On 22 December, 2023, I came to Iran with the hope that our visa applications would be processed urgently and I informed them [Home Affairs],” he said.
“When we heard about the granting of the visas, my wife, children, and I felt overjoyed because we had been eagerly awaiting (them) for a long time.
“When we were in Afghanistan and the visas were not granted, we were concerned about every aspect: our children’s education, financial issues, and security concerns.”
While Jamshed is counting down the days to starting a new life in Australia, he said he was concerned about the other LEEs remaining in Afghanistan, particularly as they face financial stress.

*Names changed due to safety concerns.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Australia’s scheme to resettle Afghan interpreters will soon end. Those still in the queue fear ‘abandonment’”
  1. As an advocate for refugee rights, I find it deeply concerning that Afghan interpreters, who risked their lives working with the Australian Defence Force, are now facing uncertainty and fear for their futures. It’s crucial that the Australian government fulfills its commitment to these individuals and ensures their safety and well-being. Time is of the essence, and every effort must be made to expedite the resettlement process for these deserving individuals.

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