Settlement Services International (SSI) has joined humanitarian organisations, human rights groups and Afghan communities in Australia in urging the federal government to consider a special intake of Afghan refugees fleeing violence from the Taliban.
As it swept into the capital Kabul, the fundamentalist Taliban has destroyed homes, displaced thousands of people and reintroduced draconian laws synonymous with its previous rule.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis AM said SSI was asking the Australian government to announce a one-off humanitarian intake of the most vulnerable Afghans, especially minority groups, and women and girls at risk.
“Women in areas under Taliban control have already lost their freedom to work, to get an education, to be a part of the society,” she said.
“They are being told to stay in their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. Girls have been taken out of school and schools for girls are closed.
“Women are being forcibly married off to Taliban fighters.
“Those displaced by the war have sought refuge on the streets of Kabul, at Kabul airport and in neighbouring countries such as Iran and Pakistan.”
SSI Gender Advocate Najeeba Wazefadost, who fled Afghanistan with her parents in 2000, said Afghan women had lost hope for peace and stability, and were once again finding themselves as prisoners of their gender.
“Women’s rights activists, women politicians and other women leaders now face the fight of their lives,” she said.
“We have heard the distress and concerns of the Afghan community in Australia and worry that refugees living in Australia or in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia will never see their families again.”
Ms Roumeliotis said SSI and other humanitarian organisations had the capacity and specialised staff ready to support the government if it were to prioritise the protection of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
“It would be a significant contribution to the international response if Australia could expand its resettlement efforts to include women and children at risk and other human rights defenders in grave danger, along the lines of the special program of additional places announced by Canada,” she said.