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AOC-sponsored Afghan families still waiting for humanitarian visas

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Five Afghan families who have been sponsored by the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) remain stranded, desperately awaiting humanitarian visas to be issued by the Australian government.

The families fled Afghanistan and are running short of money. They have no other means of support.

A member of one of the families is also a survivor of torture for his work in supporting female athletes.

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They have been waiting for news since September last year and are fearful they may have been forgotten because of the Australian government’s shift to providing much-needed assistance to Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country.

Abdul (not his real name) has previously been arrested by the Taliban and beaten before being released. Like many who have experienced life under the Taliban, he and his family remain in fear even when outside the country.

Not that he needs to be reminded of the dangers he would have faced if he remained in Afghanistan, as other family members – including children — were badly injured in an Islamic State bomb blast.

Each family’s story of fleeing Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan or Iran is harrowing.

They each now await interviews and medical checks with Australian embassy staff, although they have been told such meetings cannot happen until case numbers have been allocated to them by Australian immigration officials in Canberra.

Calls to Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke’s office over the past several weeks have gone unanswered.

Mohammed (not his real name) ferried at-risk female athletes into Kabul airport through a series of dangerous checkpoints immediately after the Taliban takeover last August, enabling them to board Australian Defence Force evacuation flights to Qatar before they were given permission to enter Australia.

He also played a key role in rescuing four children — all Australian visa holders — who had become separated from their mother at Kabul airport, helping to transport them across the border with Pakistan into the hands of Australian officials.

They have since been reunited with their family back in Australia, while Mohammed and his family are now at risk of being deported from Pakistan back to Kabul unless they are granted an emergency extension to remain there awaiting news from Australia.

At last week’s AOC annual general meeting, chief executive Matt Carroll included the plight of the Afghans in his CEO report to Olympic sports delegates and International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials in the room.

“In response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and in support of the IOC’s request … the AOC has sponsored visa applications for Afghan athletes and sport officials and their families,” Carroll said.

“Since August last year we’ve been advocating their cases to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Immigration.

“The Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, and her office, have been tremendous in their support but sadly visa approvals are still a work in progress and appallingly some of the officials [in Afghanistan] have been tortured.

“We continue our advocacy and remain in regular contact with the athletes.

“In fact, I received one this morning and sadly one of them and his son was injured in an explosion yesterday in a mosque in Kabul.

The Australian government and Defence Force personnel have received plaudits from overseas for their role in rescuing more than 60 Afghan athletes — mostly women — and their families from the airport chaos immediately after the fall of Kabul in late August 2021.

But those who remained behind to help others are now facing dire consequences — including torture — should they fail in obtaining humanitarian visas from Australia and are sent back to Afghanistan.

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