Australian family pleads to be reunited with child stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan
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An Australian family with a child stranded in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are desperate to be reunited with the teenager, saying he will be a target for the resurgent militant group.
The family, who cannot be named for safety reasons, has pleaded with the Australian government to help reunify them with the 17-year-old, currently in hiding in Kabul, but with Australia and its allies now out of the country, and the Taliban in near total control, there are few options to escape.
“He is in that city all alone,” his father told the Guardian. “Now that the Taliban have captured Kabul, he is very worried, very scared. From the day that the Taliban has arrived, I have told him not to leave the house, to stay inside, unless it is absolutely necessary.
“His mother is very worried and she keeps crying – she cannot sleep. The other children are worried about their brother and the situation that he is in. We will lose him and his fate would be unknown to us.”
The family are members of Afghanistan’s Hazara community – an ethnic and religious minority that has faced systemic persecution by the Taliban for generations, including “massacres” this year detailed by Amnesty and other human rights groups.
The father fled Afghanistan in 2010, after being threatened by the Taliban because the insurgents believed his trucking company was working alongside American and other coalition forces. He arrived in Australia by boat and his claim for refugee protection was formally recognised in 2011.
But for refugees who arrived by boat, reunification with family is notoriously difficult.
Under ministerial direction 80 – which superseded ministerial directions 62 (found by the Australian Human Rights Commission to be an “arbitrary and unlawful” interference with family and challenged in the high court) and 72 – applications for family reunification from refugees who arrived by boat are given “the lowest priority” by the Department of Home Affairs. Effectively they are put at the back of the queue and can languish for years.
However, the father applied for and was approved for reunification with his family. His wife and six of his children were granted visas and arrived in Australia in 2017, after seven years apart.
However, one son was refused a visa to Australia – because he was adopted.© Provided by The Guardian Afghans at Hamid Karzai international airport in Kabul. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Customary adoption is common across Afghanistan, where extended multi-generational families are prevalent and maternal mortality is high. Orphaned infants are immediately adopted within family groups. The teenager’s birth mother died in childbirth and he was adopted by her sister, his mother now.
Importantly, customary adoption is legally recognised under Australian migration law.
The family’s lawyer, Gregory Rohan from the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, said the teenager’s visa refusal was an error, one that had devastated his family and now risked his life.
“The visa should not have been refused in the first place: he meets the criteria for the grant of the visa. It was a decision that was wrong in law and created this situation: a family that has been separated for such a long time and may never be able to see each other again.”
Since 2017, the teenager had lived with another family member in a Pashtun-dominated suburb of Kabul. Late last year, with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan approaching, those extended family members were able to secure visas to flee over the border to Iran. He was again left behind.
He has been living by himself for nearly a year in Kabul, as the city grew increasingly dangerous and finally, just over a fortnight ago, fell to the Taliban.
“The area that we live in is surrounded by Taliban on all four sides,” his father, who has been approved for Australian citizenship, says. “It is a Pashtun area, 99% of people there are Pashtun, so identifying a Hazara child, who is by himself, is very easy for them.”
The father pleaded with the Australian government to help rescue his son from Afghanistan, “so he can unite with the rest of his family in Australia”. He said he did not know how his son would be able to leave the country: even attempting to leave the city of Kabul, his home suburb or travelling to the airport posed a significant security risk.
“I hope that the Australian government can help the deprived Afghan Hazara people from the tyranny the Taliban will bring. Even if they can rescue one Hazara child, any Hazara… please help them.”© Provided by The Guardian A view from the damaged site after two bombing attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The teenager’s mother, Rohan said, was stricken by an almost “grief” for her lost son.
“Having been faced with the agonising decision to leave him in the first place in the care of relatives, it is now a nightmare that has dragged on for years. She can barely speak with him on the phone now it is so distressing.”
Rohan said he had made consistent entreaties to the Australian government to grant the teenager a child visa to enable him to be reunited with his family in Australia.
“We’ve been, for the most part, ignored by the Department of Home Affairs: our repeated representations of behalf of the family have not even generated a response. Through the assistance of the family’s local MP, we have made contact with the department, but we’ve just been met with delays.”
Rohan said, as Afghanistan has descended into chaos and the control of the Taliban, his firm had been approached by hundreds of people seeking to reunite with family members in Afghanistan.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it could not comment on individual cases but said the government was working to ensure that visa options continue to be available to Afghan nationals, both within Afghanistan and those displaced from their home country, through Australia’s humanitarian and migration programs.
“The Australian government announced on 18 August 2021 that Afghan citizens will be prioritised for processing within Australia’s offshore humanitarian program. Particular priority will be given to persecuted minorities, women and children and those who have links to Australia.”