Over 100 Afghan interpreters have died while working with Coalition soldiers
The war in Afghanistan has now dragged on for 11 long years. 39 Australian soldiers have been killed and 242 wounded.
With Australia intending to withdraw the last of its troops in 2014, concern is mounting about another group of people who’ve been helping the Australian war effort. Hundreds of Afghanis have worked for Australia and their coalition partners, many in the vital role of interpreter.
And for those who wish to flee a country where they face persecution by the Taliban, visas aren’t easy to come by.
Ali* took the treacherous journey to Australia on a broken boat two years ago, aged just 15. His father, a translator for the British army, had been captured and killed, his body returned to Ali’s family with a chilling note.
“They put a letter in his pocket and with his dead body to tell us that they are going to kill us as well,” says Ali, “and the reason they are going to kill us was that he was working with foreign troops.”
Terrified that her eldest son would be next, Ali’s mother arranged for a people smuggler to take him out of the country, via Pakistan, to Australia by boat.
Ali spent six months in immigration detention, and was granted a visa in 2011. He applied for visas for his mother and two siblings but has yet to receive an answer on whether his family will be accepted as refugees.
“It’s horrible….because they are not safe. I don’t trust the situation in Afghanistan for one minute.”
The US, Canada and New Zealand all have a special visa class for their Afghan interpreters – but Australia doesn’t.
In the coming weeks, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will table a bill in federal parliament to create such a class of visa.
“It will apply to people who have offered service, particularly through interpreting but also other services to the coalition forces for a minimum of 12 months,” says Hanson-Young.
It’s been done before. At the end of the war in Iraq the Migration Act was changed to accommodate Iraqi translators and their families. 172 Iraqi interpreters and 396 family members have since migrated to Australia.
Some suggest that with so many people currently stuck in immigration detention, a new visa class will just add to a process that lawyer Greg Barnes describes as “snails paced”.
“One has to wonder whether it is a good idea to be fast tracking a particular group simply because they happen to be agents of the Australian government in a particular war setting.”
For Ali, a new class of visa may mean a reunion that now seems all too distant.
“I love Australia and also the people, but I miss the most important thing in my life which is my mum and brother and sisters, I really need them… I miss them all the time… I hope one day for them to join me in Australia so we have a happy life, that’s my only wish now.”
* Not his real name.
For more on Ali and the new visa proposal, watch The Project's story here.