The first Australian Defence Force evacuation flight has departed Kabul with 26 evacuees on board.
CAPTION: Evacuees board the first Australian rescue flight out of Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo by Sergeant Glen McCarthy.
The RAAF C-130J Hercules landed at Hamid Karzai International Airport overnight and departed safely with all available and willing Australian citizens and visa holders who were at the airport.
The evacuees were taken to a temporary evacuation holding centre at Australia’s main operating base in the Middle East for medical support and further screening.
Australian government officials on the ground are working to facilitate the safe movement of designated evacuees for subsequent flights.
A KC-30A multi-role tanker transport aircraft arrived in the Middle East yesterday and will commence air-to-air refuelling operations with partner nations in the coming days.
Two C-17A Globemasters have also departed and, by the end of today, the majority of the more than 250 personnel being deployed in support this mission will have arrived in the Middle East.
Defence is taking all necessary precautions to protect its people and those designated for evacuation.
The mission will be constantly assessed and adjusted to cater for the latest developments
In a press conference today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said…
Last evening, Australia’s operation to commence evacuating Australians and visa holders, Afghan nationals, and others from Kabul commenced. We were able to get our first flight in last night and enabling us to transfer also in key personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Home Affairs and Defence to facilitate the evacuation of citizens, residents and visa holders, Afghan nationals, from Kabul. This was the first of what will be many flights, subject to clearance and weather, and we do note that over the back end of this week there is some not too favourable weather forecast.
The operation involves everything from establishing that contact with those who are in Afghanistan, particularly closer to Kabul, to ensure that they can be in a position to be at the airport in order to be evacuated on the flights as they come into Kabul. To process their embarkation, and to get on to those flights. This is not a simple process. It’s very difficult for any Australian to imagine the sense of chaos and uncertainty that is existing right across this country, the breakdown in formal communications, the ability to reach people, and we are doing this directly ourselves. Groups like the IOM are no longer able to assist us with that task, and so we are doing that directly. And, we’re doing it working with the local Afghan communities here in Australia, in order to assist us in making all those contacts, and the Foreign Affairs Minister can speak further to that. The transfers are done to our base in the Emirates, where capacity has already been established, with medical support available, to both receive and provide that medical support, and to process their further onward transfer to Australia. And, in addition to that, we’ve made arrangements with state governments around the country, over and above existing caps, for those who have been transferred back to Australia to be quarantined in appropriate facilities to support their quarantine.
Last night, that first C1-30 went in, bringing in those Australians who are facilitating things on the ground. I have to stress how important that is – to get people on a flight and get people on the ground to process this. This will be done in as orderly a fashion as is possible in these circumstances. We need to be very clear who’s getting on our planes, who’s going to our base, and who’s going to come and live here in Australia. We have to be very, very clear about that, and we are taking all the sensible precautions, but moving urgently to address the very real need in these very stressing conditions.
There were, that plane touched down at our base in the Emirates at 10.40am Canberra time today. There were 26 people who were on board that flight. That included Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas, and one foreign official who was working with an international agency. I remind people that we are working with other agencies, working with other governments, like-minded and others, to address their needs as well as our own, and we’re seeking to maximise the use of all the flights from all the countries that are going in and out of Kabul. One additional C1-30 and two C-17s are being prepositioned to join that existing C-130 to support those regular flights out of Kabul in the days ahead and for as long as we can continue to operate those flights to get people out.
We intend for those numbers to increase on future flights. But, as is the experience of other countries who have been engaged in this process, these initial flights are challenged by having officials on the ground to go through that proper process. I can confirm the security situation at the airport has improved, and more broadly across Kabul, and that is supported particularly by the presence of US and UK troops on the ground being able to take control of the airport. It still, though, remains an incredibly challenging environment in which to operate. And, I want to thank all of those who are involved in these operations, those flying the planes in dangerous territory, those who are going onto the ground, those who we sent in last night in the dark to be there, be overnight. We were able to get others in through a partner flight last night as well, to increase the number we could have there, to be able to be supporting those operations on the ground, to get people onto these planes. They are doing Australia a great service. It reminds me of those Foreign Affairs officials, Marise, who got in a car and drove to Wuhan at the start of this crisis. One the daughter of a former Prime Minister, I note, who went and did that job. Our Foreign Affairs officials, our Home Affairs officials, our Defence people, indeed, I’ve seen it so many times now. Their professionalism, their dedication to service, their commitment to this country is extraordinary, and they have moved swiftly and courageously. And, I want to thank them for what they’re doing for their fellow Australians and our cause right now.
Now, the issue of resettlement has come up in previous days, and it is a matter that the Government has been considering now for, for some time. What I can confirm is this though – and I have a very clear message on this – we will only be resettling people through our official humanitarian program going through official channels. We will not be offering a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship. We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time. Our policy has not changed. We will be supporting Afghans who have legitimate claims through our official and legitimate processes. We will not be providing that pathway to those who would seek to come any other way. That is a very important message. The Government’s policy has not changed, will not change. But, I can confirm that since we came to Government some 8,500 Afghans have been resettled in Australia. We have been continuing to process through our official humanitarian program, working through the legitimate channels, some 8,500 Afghans into Australia, ranging from about 1,300 a year, up to about 1,900 a year, and we are going to continue to do that. We will be ensuring this year that we believe we’ll be able to provide around 3,000 visas. Now, that’s more than double what we’ve been doing, and in some cases triple what we’ve been doing, in the current year. And, we do believe we’ll be able to do more than that. You would have heard other countries talk about figures of 5,000. I note that some are talking about figures of 20,000. But, can I tell you, there are no clear plans about that. Australia is not going into that territory. What we’re focused on is right here and right now, and we believe working with the local community here, we are reaching out to the UNHCR, and the Foreign Minister will probably make mention of that. We are working through the channels that were so successful in bringing people out in other hazardous situations in the past. I’ve spoken to Paris Aristotle today who worked closely with us on those arrangements. He’ll be working closely with the Minister for Immigration, Minister Hawke, to ensure that we are working with those communities to ensure that we can be able to establish the bona fides of individual applicants.
I already mentioned to you yesterday that the files of those who proved not to be locally engaged employees had already been transferred to be assessed under that refugee and humanitarian program. That is already occurring. So, Australia, at the very least, through our official channels, will be processing, we believe, at least 3,000 in the current financial year, and we believe more can be accommodated potentially within our existing arrangements. COVID has meant that the process of running our refugee and humanitarian program, like all of our visa programs, have been running at lower levels, and so we can accommodate these additional numbers, but within the existing processes.
I also confirm that those who are IMA’s, those who have not come to Australia the right way and are on temporary visas in Australia, they will not be offered permanent residence in Australia. That will not change. I want to be very clear about that. I want to send a very clear message to people smugglers in the region that nothing’s changed. I will not give you a product to sell and take advantage of people’s misery. My Government won’t do it. We never have and we never will.