Former Prime Minister John Howard has spoken out on the need for faster visas for Afghan workers assisting the US and Allied forces during the Afghanistan War.
He made the remarks amid growing concerns that thousands of Afghans will face violent retaliation from the Taliban, who are now moving into the war-torn country.
“Where it is clearly the case that they may be at risk of retaliation, we have an obligation to help them, if necessary, by granting them visas to stay in Australia,” Howard told SBS News.
“It is our moral obligation. It was a moral obligation that we shamefully disregarded when we exited Vietnam many years ago,” he said. “I do not want to see a repetition of that failure with respect to Afghanistan.”
There have been revelations that an Afghan interpreter was denied a visa to Australia on the grounds that he was not directly employed by the government.
Howard said the government should not deny visas on the grounds of “narrow legalism” or technicality.
“If a group of people helped Australians in a way that put their lives and those around them in danger, we have a moral obligation to help them,” he said.
Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was doing everything in its power to expedite visa applications for hundreds of Afghans.
“Hundreds are in that process right now,” he told ABC Radio on July 9. “We’re doing it as fast and safely as we can.”
“It’s obviously an environment in which it’s difficult to operate, people will appreciate it,” he said.
Morrison also said that Afghan subcontractors can apply through a humanitarian visa stream instead of one dedicated to workers.
“We work through both channels,” he said.
So far in recent years, 1,400 Afghan workers and their families working with the Australian government have been granted visas. 230 visas have been issued since April 15.
Foreign Minister Maris Payne said no qualified Afghan would be left behind.
“We’re not going to leave behind someone who has worked for us and who is reasonably qualified,” she said.
The situation in Afghanistan has worsened after the Allied forces withdrew from the country.
Regional officials in northern Afghanistan say the Taliban have retaken government buildings in a provincial capital that was attacked earlier this week.