The Australian government’s newly appointed adviser on the resettlement of Afghan citizens has predicted the “residual trauma” among those fleeing the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will be “one of the highest levels of any group we have ever resettled”.
Paris Aristotle, the co-chair of an advisory panel announced Monday, also said he welcomed signals from the government that it was open to taking in more than the 3,000 Afghan nationals it initially promised to accommodate by June next year.
“If the government decides to do that, I’m confident we have the capacity to do it right,” he said of an increased influx.
Aristotle said the new panel would immediately focus on helping people who have flown from Kabul in the past two weeks to access trauma and mental health services in Australia and to sponsor relatives left behind in Afghanistan.
In an interview with Guardian Australia, he said the evacuees left Afghanistan “under very high pressure, where there was an extraordinary amount of fear, anxiety and despair about getting a visa, let alone getting to the airport safely, beyond the airport.” gates come, and so forth”.
“The residual trauma to the group will probably be one of the highest levels of any group we’ve ever historically resettled,” he said.
Australia withdrew its defense personnel and other officials from the Kabul airport on Thursday, shortly before dozens of Afghan nationals and 13 US military personnel were killed near the site in a terrorist attack linked to an Islamic State affiliate.
The ADF withdrew about 4,100 people from Afghanistan during the operation, including a total of 3,200, either Australians or Afghan nationals with Australian visas, but the government has not yet provided a more detailed breakdown.
Aristotle said the Covid-19 pandemic has added a new level of complexity to the resettlement process, with people going through “more isolated conditions” as they went through two weeks in hotel quarantine on arrival.
“Normally, when you settle in Australia you go straight to things like English language programs, kids go to school pretty quickly, they go to health services or mental health and trauma services. A lot of that can’t happen the way it normally happens.”
The Advisory Panel on the Resettlement of Afghan Citizens in Australia met for the first time on Monday and is expected to meet three times this week with representatives of the Afghan community.
The government has so far set aside at least 3,000 places for Afghan nationals within Australia’s existing 13,750 places in the humanitarian program, rather than a special additional inclusion as Tony Abbott has announced for 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
But in the wake of the announcement, Scott Morrison and Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke have… indicated that the number could go higher, and Australia would resettle Afghan nationals “at elevated levels” in the coming years.
“I want to emphasize that the 3,000 is a floor, not a ceiling,” the prime minister told parliament last week. “If we have to increase the size of the coverall, [humanitarian] program to accommodate extra people, then we will do that.”
Aristotle welcomed those signals from the government. “In my view, the ability of the settlement sector, the local Afghan community and the wider Australian community would make it more than feasible for us to accommodate larger numbers,” Aristotle said.
Asked if he had encouraged the government to mark a strong commitment over several years, Aristotle said: “That has certainly been my opinion, but it was also an opinion that the Prime Minister and the Minister had already arrived at – the believe that this should be a multi-year initiative, which will not be resolved anytime soon.”
Aristotle said Afghan Australians were “an extraordinary community in terms of what they have already brought to the country”.
Aristotle said that with the situation in Afghanistan “still very fluid”, it was unclear whether processing of refugee applications in that country would be possible.
He said a lot of people may have already done that crossed the border to neighboring countriesbecause they had expected the situation to worsen. The United States and other countries had also flown over large numbers of people, and as a result of the concerted efforts, some of them could settle in Australia.
Australia joined nearly 100 countries on Monday by issuing a US-led statement saying that they have received “assurance from the Taliban that all foreigners and every Afghan citizen with a travel permit from our countries will travel in a safe and orderly manner.” will be allowed to proceed to departure points and travel outside the country”.
Announcing the new advisory panel, Hawke said the government wanted to provide additional specialist support so that Afghan citizens could “start their lives in Australia on the strongest possible footing”.
The minister said he was “delighted to see an outpouring of support in the Australian community for the evacuees and humanitarian newcomers to follow”.