By Vatican News staff writer
As concern mounts for the people of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban takeover following the country’s government collapse and the withdrawal of US forces, Bishops of Australia have called on their government to expand its intake of Afghans who are fleeing Taliban rule.
In a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrisson, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) urged the Australian government to provide “at least 20,000 humanitarian places” for Afghans fleeing the conflict in their country.
The Australian government had announced plans to take in 3000 Afghan refugees with the possibility of taking in even more. Morrisson on Thursday said that the figure was “a floor, not a ceiling” for Australian humanitarian migration intake.
Archbishop Coleridge said that the 3000 places offered above, and beyond 8000 places over the past decade “is a substantial commitment, but more is needed”.
He proposed that at least another 17,000 places be made available based on estimates from key humanitarian organizations and pledges from other countries.
A moral duty
“It would seem our moral duty to stand with those who supported Australian military forces as interpreters or in other capacities, who it seems likely will suffer reprisals and even death for their work,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
He pointed out that many Afghans would find themselves vulnerable under Taliban rule, particularly religious minorities and women, and those who supported Australian defense forces in Afghanistan – some of whom lost their lives.
More so, Archbishop Coleridge underlined the particular risk to women, stressing that “Australia's humanitarian response should recognize and support their dignity and human rights.”
“We should also offer refuge to other Afghans who are likely to suffer persecution or risk being killed because of their opposition to the Taliban, or because of their beliefs, values and way of life, including members of the Christian community,” he said.
Urging generosity from Australian authorities, Archbishop Coleridge recalled that the country had “stepped up before in response to significant humanitarian crises,” and pointed out the readiness of Catholic agencies to assist the government with resettlement of refugees “as an expression of our great concern for the people of Afghanistan.”
Australia has currently set a figure of 13,750 humanitarian visas this year. The previous annual number was 18,750 but it was cut by 5,000 with the government citing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UK has offered 20,000 additional humanitarian places to Afghan nationals over five years. Canada has also offered 20,000 resettlement places, including women leaders, government workers and others facing threats from the Taliban.