Australia should allow in at least 20,000 Afghan refugees, according to Australian Catholic Bishop Conference President Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane.
Thousands of people have been trying to flee Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country, adding to the already 2.2 million refugees in other countries.
The Australian government announced last week it would take 3,000 refugees from the Central Asian nation.
In a letter to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Coleridge called on the government to raise that number to at least 20,000.
“Australia has stepped up before in response to significant humanitarian crises, and I urge your government to be generous,” he wrote, noting that Catholic agencies “stand ready to assist your government with resettlement of refugees as an expression of our great concern for the people of Afghanistan.”
“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,” the archbishop added, emphasizing the “particular risk” to women under the Taliban’s fundamentalist version of Islam: “Australia’s humanitarian response should recognize and support their dignity and human rights.”
Coleridge also said Australia has a moral duty to help Afghan translators and others who supported Australian military forces, “who it seems likely will suffer reprisals and even death for their work.”
Bishop Vincent Long, who chairs the Catholic Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, is himself a refugee from Vietnam. He noted the parallels between his situation and that of those fleeing Afghanistan.
“I too fled by boat in the wake of the Fall of Saigon and the end of a protracted war in which Australia had been involved,” Long said.
“My family was welcomed into Australia at a very difficult time. This is also a pivotal moment for us to step up and support those in need in Afghanistan as their country is irrevocably changed in front of their eyes. I hope to see the same level of bipartisan support for Afghan refugees now as there was for Vietnamese refugees then,” he continued.
“We need to support Afghans, and we need to live up to our international obligations, and also live up to our status as a prosperous society, one with a courageous past that welcomed previous waves of refugees,” the bishop added. “The pandemic has incidentally made us realize that we are only as strong as our weakest link. Our solidarity with, and support for, the suffering Afghan people are essential for a long-term peace and flourishing of the whole human family.”
Meanwhile, JRS Australia is calling on the government to offer better support for the 5,100 Afghan refugees who have been living on temporary visas in Australia, some for up to ten years.
“Despite living in limbo and effectively excluded from bringing family to Australia, they have worked, studied, and contributed significantly to Australian society in considerable ways, including volunteering on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response. In the current circumstances, it is clear that they will not be able to return safely to Afghanistan in the foreseeable future,” the agency said in a statement.
“JRS Australia urges the Australian Government to grant these refugees permanent protection and swift access to family reunification,” the statement continued.
Britain and Canada have already pledged to eventually take in 20,000 Afghan refugees each. The U.S. has so far pledged to take in 10,000 Afghan refugees, although it is under pressure to take in more.