Topics: Evacuation of Australians, permanent residents, and Australian visa holders from Kabul International Airport.
QUESTION: Minister, what’s the advice on how much more time you’ve got for getting people out of Kabul?
KAREN ANDREWS: The advice that we’re following at the moment has clearly been set out by the United States; there has been some clear advice coming through from President Biden. What we are doing, is continuing to work on the ground at Kabul – to make sure that we are able to evacuate as many people as we possibly can, as long as it is safe to do so.
QUESTION: Has the process been too bureaucratic?
KAREN ANDREWS: The process has been one that has worked extraordinarily well. We have had 2,450 people evacuated and that is in excess of what we believed we would have been able to do over the space of a week. It has been an extraordinary effort by so many people on the ground. 2,450; 750 were evacuated overnight. The people on the ground from Home Affairs; from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the Australian Border Force; all of our officials and the ADF; have worked very hard to make sure we are able to evacuate as many people as we possibly can – and they have achieved an outstanding success.
QUESTION: How close to the deadline have Australian troops been given, does there need to be a buffer to get the Americans out? What date can we stay until?
KAREN ANDREWS: I don’t want to go into the operational aspects of the work that we are undertaking at the moment, other than to say that we are doing everything that we can to get as many people out as quickly as we can, and we will stay there as long as we can.
QUESTION: Minister, there are reports that Embassy guards who had received approvals for visas have been stopped by Australian officials into getting into the airport. What’s the issue there? Why has there been this lack of communication?
KAREN ANDREWS: There are various reports coming through at the moment but we need to see this in context. It is a war zone – there are multiple Taliban checkpoints on the way through to the airport and it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to get through those checkpoints. Our officials are doing all that they can; DFAT is giving very good advice; very strong advice to people who are either Australian citizens, permanent residents, or visa holders. What they need to do is effectively get to the gates at the perimeter of the airport, but also follow DFAT advice to the absolute letter. Now – understanding it is very difficult – a lot of people don’t have paper documentation; they are needing to rely on the electronic information they have. The important thing is if they can get to the airport; get to a gate; then that is what they need to do, following DFAT advice.
QUESTION: Some at the gate haven’t been allowed in by Australian officials. Why is that?
KAREN ANDREWS: We are doing everything on the ground to enable people to get through the gates, but there is limited access through those gates. It needs to be managed. I think we need to understand that there are an increasing number of people attending at the gates; trying to get through. It’s very difficult for our ADF; it’s also very difficult for other defence forces that are manning those gates to make sure that people who are going through those gates, have the right documentation to be able to do so. I think we need to accept that our officials are doing everything that is humanly possible to get as many people through those gates.
QUESTION: Minister will people be left behind?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well it is very important that we set up a second pathway and we have done that, which is our humanitarian program. We’ve made it very clear that we will be taking about 3,000 people – who will be able to come to Australia – under our humanitarian program. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that the 3,000 is not a ceiling; it is actually a floor. Over the coming months we will be looking at how we can get those people to come to Australia. We have had a very long and proud history with our resettlement programs. We’ve had many people come – 8,500 people have come here from Afghanistan since 2013. We will continue to work with our community groups here on the ground in Australia; we will continue to work with the UNHCR to make sure that we are bringing people here as quickly as we can.
We have had three flights arrive in Australia with people who have come out of the Middle East. Those flights have come into Perth, to Melbourne and to Adelaide. Those people are already in hotel quarantine and we are working to make sure we can resettle those people. I believe there are a number of Australian citizens there – some of those may not have lived in our country for some time. We will be looking at what we can do to assist them to resettle back into Australia. That work is underway and I have made it very clear with my Department that I need them to look at that resettlement as soon as possible – after people come out of their hotel quarantine and they are ready to join the Australian community.
Thank you very much.