The Australian government has denied visas to a group of more than 100 Afghan contractors who guarded the Australian embassy in Kabul, telling them to “contact a migration agent”.
- “Mass-produced rejection letters” were sent to the former guards on Friday
- It is understood one reason for the rejections is that the men were not direct employees of the embassy
- A lawyer working to extract Afghans from the country has flagged a Federal Court challenge
An email, obtained by the ABC, was sent to the former contractors on Friday informing them they were “not eligible for certification” under the At Risk Afghan Employees Visa Scheme.
The ABC has chosen not to name the contractors, for security reasons.
The ABC understands that one reason for the rejections is that the At Risk Afghan Employees Visa was designed to cater for those who were directly employed by the embassy, not contractors.
This explanation, however, has not been included in the rejection letter emailed to the contractors.
A DFAT spokesperson said late on Sunday that the guards had “already been approved for visas in another humanitarian category”, however advocates say the guards had not been informed of this.
The email to the rejected guards thanks the recipients for their applications and says they have been considered by the Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne.
“Unfortunately, you are not eligible for certification under this visa policy,” it says.
It then states that an extra 3,000 humanitarian places have been allocated to Afghan nationals within Australia’s annual 13,750-person program, and states that particular priority will be given to persecuted minorities and those “who have links to Australia”.
“We encourage you to investigate your options fully, including under this humanitarian stream,” it says.
It also notes the email recipient’s name has been passed on to the Home Affairs Department which processes the applications.
The final paragraph of the email suggests to the contractors that they “may also wish to contact a migration agent to discuss these avenues”.
One of the contractors who received the email said the whole group was shocked.
Several hundred Afghans have been recruited by security companies over the years to work guarding the embassy.
They had to pass strict security checks and in many cases were paid less than $30 a day.
In the lead-up to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, contractors guarding the embassy were dismissed as part of a reduction in the workforce. This may have impacted on their eligibility for visa consideration.
Lawyer Glen Kolomeitz, who has been leading a team of lawyers and ex-military personnel working pro bono to try and extract the Afghans, said he was aware of the “templated” responses and that the rejection of visas was “a disgrace”.
He said the ex-guards were all being sent a standard templated letter, and all the letters had the same file number.
“This is clearly an attempt by Defence and DFAT to look like they have done their job when they sat on their hands for so long,” Mr Kolomeitz, who served in Afghanistan and runs the firm GAP Veteran and Legal Services, said.
“These are mass-produced rejection letters and they are entirely unacceptable.”
Mr Kolomeitz said his group was on the verge of making a Federal Court challenge to the entire process.
He said his legal team had several hundred guards seeking the visas who had been rejected.
The UK government has also rejected the applications of hundreds of guards who secured the British embassy.
Many worked for some of the same security companies which had the contracts to protect the Australian embassy.
The UK rejection letter contained a paragraph that said the contractors were not eligible because they were not “directly employed” by the UK government.
Earlier today Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government had been taking a cautious approach, especially in relation to ex-employees from Afghanistan.
“There are people who worked with us, people who worked with us five or six years ago, and what they have been doing in that intervening period is an unknown,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
‘Already approved in another category’
After being contacted by the ABC, a DFAT spokesperson said the security guards who were not eligible for restricted locally engaged visas had “already been approved for visas in another humanitarian category”.
“The government has allocated an initial 3,000 places to Afghan nationals in the general humanitarian stream and we strongly encourage Afghans at risk to pursue this option,” said the spokesperson.
But members of the legal and veterans group seeking to help the guards said the statement that the guards had “already been approved for visas in another humanitarian category” was news to them and the guards.
Kay Danes, who is one part of the team working with the lawyers, said they were only aware of six contractor guards who had been informed they had been given temporary visas.
She said they had only been given this news today.
The DFAT spokesperson also said every applicant who did not meet the category of “at-risk employees” has now had their application automatically forwarded to the Department of Home Affairs to be automatically considered under another humanitarian stream.
“This streamlining of processes reflects the fact that the special visa category for locally engaged employees has always been restricted to that group, while the humanitarian category is not.”
The DFAT spokesperson added: “The Australian government will continue to do everything we can to get Australians, Australian visa holders and families out of Afghanistan.”
The spokesperson said since 2013, Australia had issued more than 8,500 humanitarian visas to Afghan nationals including 1,800 in the special category for at-risk employees.