First Australian rescue flight from Afghanistan lands in UAE with 26 people on board

First Australian rescue flight from Afghanistan lands in UAE with 26 people on board

Dozens of Australians and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on an Australian emergency rescue flight.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday confirmed 26 people – which included Australian citizens, Afghan visa holders, and a foreign official – were on board a flight that left Kabul on Wednesday morning.

They since touched down at an Australian base in the United Arab Emirates.

Flights intended to carry larger cohorts of people are being set up for the days ahead, and will happen “for as long as we can continue to operate the flights to get people out”, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“This is not a simple process,” he said.

“It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people.”

Flights intended to carry larger cohorts of people are being set up for the days ahead, and will happen “for as long as we can continue to operate the flights to get people out”, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“This is not a simple process,” he said.

“It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people.”

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First Australian rescue flight from Afghanistan lands in UAE with 26 people on board
A contingent of Air Force and Army personnel board a waiting KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft at RAAF Base Amberley bound for the Middle East Source: Defence
The government has also revealed it expects to provide around 3,000 visas for Afghan applicants this financial year.

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BY EVAN YOUNG, ANNA HENDERSON, RASHIDA YOSUFZAI
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Dozens of Australians and Afghan nationals have been evacuated from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on an Australian emergency rescue flight.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday confirmed 26 people – which included Australian citizens, Afghan visa holders, and a foreign official – were on board a flight that left Kabul on Wednesday morning.

They since touched down at an Australian base in the United Arab Emirates.

Flights intended to carry larger cohorts of people are being set up for the days ahead, and will happen “for as long as we can continue to operate the flights to get people out”, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“This is not a simple process,” he said.

“It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people.”

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
Scott Morrison concedes Australia won’t be able to help all former Afghan interpreters
Australian passport holders had been instructed to prepare for a rescue flight on Tuesday night.

SBS News understands visa holders, including former interpreters for Australia, were initially told they would not be part of this first rescue operation.

Further confirmation about who was on the flight is being sought.

A number of former Afghan interpreters lined up at the Kabul airport on Tuesday night in the hopes of being able to board the rescue flight. SBS News understands Taliban members were guarding airport gates.

Mr Morrison on Tuesday afternoon conceded Australia would not be able to rescue all its former interpreters and staff that assisted its 20-year mission in Afghanistan.

Reports have emerged a former Afghan interpreter at the airport hoping to get on the evacuation flight was shot by a member of the Taliban.

Asked about the reports, Mr Morrison said he couldn’t comment but noted that “Kabul’s a dangerous place”.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Home Affairs and Defence have been transferred into Kabul to further evacuations.

Mr Morrison said Australia needed to be “very clear who is getting on our planes”.

“We have to be very, very clear about that. We are taking all the sensible precautions and moving urgently to address the very real need in these stressing conditions,” he said.

Around 130 Australian citizens and more than 200 former interpreters and embassy guards have been in Afghanistan.

The airport in Kabul was closed temporarily on Monday after chaotic scenes that saw hundreds try to force their way onto evacuation flights while US soldiers tried to control crowds.

Former prime minister John Howard defended Australia’s role in the war on Afghanistan, insisting it was not a failure despite the Taliban’s resurgence.

“Since we went into Afghanistan there is no evidence of a major terrorist attack that’s been orchestrated out of Afghanistan,” Mr Howard, who sent troops into the country in 2001, told ABC 7.30 on Wednesday.

He said the aim was to cripple Al-Qaeda.

“On that criteria, the mission, whatever may be said of it, it has not been a failure.”

But he criticised the United States for pulling out too quickly and allowing for the rapid collapse of opposition to the Taliban.

3,000 humanitarian visas
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison said the government expects to provide around 3,000 visas for Afghan applicants this financial year.

“That’s more than double what we’ve been doing, and in some cases, triple what we’ve been doing,” he said.

The visas granted will come from Australia’s existing humanitatian intake, rather than a special allocation.

Canada and Britain have announced in recent days they would take in up to 20,000 Afghan refugees over the next few years.

However, Mr Morrison said the Australian government had “no clear plans” to operate a program of a similar scale.

“Australia is not going into that territory. What we’re focused on is right here and right now,” he said.

The Prime Minister also reiterated the government would only be resettling people through official channels.

“We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time. Our policy has not changed,” he said.

In a statement later on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Afghans would be given priority processing from the existing humanitarian program.

He said the government anticipates the allocation of 3,000 “will increase further over the course of this year”.

“And for those that will come here under this program, Australia has a highly successful humanitarian resettlement program which will assist all Afghan refugees to succeed in their new lives in Australia,” he said.

“In [the] coming weeks I will continue to engage with Australian-Afghan community leaders to identify those most at risk, with a focus on family members, minorities, women, children and other vulnerable and persecuted groups.”

Defence Minister Peter Dutton defended the 3,000 visas figure, saying it was the appropriate level.

“There are others in Europe that make these commitments and don’t follow through with it,” he told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Dutton said there are concerns around security threats and that all applications for Australia’s humanitarian program would be carefully scrutinised.

“If you are going to take 20,000 people that you don’t have security checks on, then I wouldn’t recommend that. I don’t believe that is in our country’s best interests,” he said.

He said while more evacuation flights out of Kabul are planned, the number of people on board would be affected by weather and the ability of people to get to the airport.

“The reality will be the circumstances on the ground, whether people can get through roadblocks, get into the airport terminal, whether they can present themselves to the airport.

“There’s [also] bad weather that is forecast over a 3-4 day period, which may make flights in and out impossible.”

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