Passport hurdle for Aussie-bound Afghans

·3-min read

Instead of continuing her studies, 30-year-old Fateme is in hiding in Afghanistan, waiting to hear about her bid to escape the Taliban regime and make a new home in Australia.

The communications specialist, whose surname has not been published for her own safety, previously worked on two projects for the Australian embassy in Kabul and wants to join her relatives in Australia.

But in a common hurdle for Afghans trying to flee the country, Fateme's partner and children do not have passports and therefore are struggling to prove their identities to foreign authorities.

Refugee Advice and Casework Service director and solicitor Sarah Dale said her organisation is hearing from an increasing number of people who want to apply for an Australian visa, but don't have a passport.

"There have been instances where Australia has evacuated people without a passport," Ms Dale told AAP.

"We would hope the same pragmatism would apply moving forward in this time of crisis."

In Fateme's case, she already had a passport for her work. However, her partner and children never have.

"We know that priority will be given to those with a strong link to Australia and that Australia in previous crises has shown priority for vulnerable women and children," Ms Dale said.

Australian Border Force has previously confirmed that Afghan citizens are being prioritised for visa processing, with particular attention given to women and children and people with links to Australia.

"An initial 3000 humanitarian places have been allocated to Afghan nationals within Australia's 13,750 annual program," a spokesperson said.

"The (Australian) government anticipates this initial allocation will increase further over the course of 2021-22."

The Taliban passport office opened in Kabul on October 6, but people like Fateme and her family are having to consider their own safety when contacting authorities.

Ms Dale said the establishment of identity, not a passport, is what is most important.

"Even in Australia, the Afghan embassy is closed. How do people get documents if those processes do not exist?" she said.

"Australia could consider issuing travel documents to those they seek to support, enabling them to travel."

In the month after the Taliban's August takeover of Kabul, Ms Dale said her service received 860 calls seeking family reunions and offshore humanitarian visas.

Fateme, who is educated in law and political science and was studying an MBA before the Taliban returned, is in hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

She is unhappy the Taliban is enforcing the Islamic hijab for women and girls.

"The Taliban's war is only for the sake of their narcissistic quest for absolute patriarchal power," Fateme said.

As a member of the persecuted Tajik ethnic minority, Fateme said her family's fear of the Taliban has continued after finding her Hazara father-in-law murdered by the Taliban in 1997.

Along with her siblings - sisters aged 26, 28 and 23, who previously worked as teachers and media presenters - all the family's women are forbidden to work and are experiencing financial hardship.

Fateme's mother describes their situation as a "paralysing house arrest".

In September, Canberra announced the appointment of a Special Representative on Afghanistan to lead Australia's international engagement in the region.

Australia's August evacuation mission airlifted 4100 people out of chaos at Kabul airport.

Officials have revealed that more than 26,000 applications to come to Australia have been received in recent weeks. It's estimated that when families of applicants are taken into account, about 100,000 Afghans are seeking asylum.

The federal government on Thursday committed an additional $27 million over two years to provide support, resettlement assistance and legal services for Afghan refugees.

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