By Kate Banville
Overcome by emotion, a former Afghan interpreter and Australian army veteran celebrate the surreal moment he ends quarantine to begin a new life on Australian soil. Like two mates catching up and making up for lost time, the embrace between the two men was one that had long been hoped for, but felt almost impossible after a series of unfortunate events.
Fazli was booked on an August 17 flight bound for Australia, after being granted a special category visa for locally engaged employees whose life was deemed at considerable risk for assisting Australian troops. He first applied in 2013 but says he was told there was a waitlist due to high demand at the time. His application would sit idle for another seven years before receiving a response from the Defence department, who is responsible for certifying his employment.
He, and many others didn’t make it on their pre-booked flights as the Taliban regained lost territory across Afghanistan at a shocking pace, and were already in the capital days before the scheduled flight could take off. It meant he, his wife and five young children would join thousands of people outside the airport gates desperate to make it on a military evacuation flight, but that didn’t happen either.
Fazli described to Australian Veterans News the dangerous environment outside the airport gates, where he stood in sewage for days trying to get the attention of soldiers as gas and gunfire surrounded him.
“I show my visa to the soldiers and they are explaining today is not the day of your entry to the airport, it's just just for those people who are Australian citizens and have Australian passports,“ he said.
“I was very scared and I was really feeling bad too because I have a permanent visa but no one has helped me.”
Fazli says he was forced to abandon his efforts after it became more dangerous with people getting injured and killed by being trampled in forceful crowds, a decision that meant he narrowly avoided being blown up by a suicide bomber.
In hiding with no way to make an income or buy food, Jason Scanes, who had petitioned the Australian government on Fazli’s behalf through his non-profit group Forsaken Fighters Australia, Inc. sent money to help him.
“To move from house to house to avoid the Taliban, it costs money to do that,”
“Banks weren’t operating and now the economy has nearly completely collapsed so we are grateful we could step in to assist.”
After weeks of uncertainty for Fazli and his young family, DFAT was able to safely evacuate them and others who flew to Australia from Qatar a fortnight ago, after having made it to a Doha air force base being used as a processing centre.
Released from quarantine in Brisbane on Friday, Mr Scanes was there to meet the family in person, and escort them to the airport before boarding a flight to their final destination in Newcastle.
“It was hugely rewarding to follow Fazli through that entire process,”
“He called me and I was standing in front of the hotel and he said where are you at the front?
“And I said yes and he said look up. I looked up and about 19 floors up he was there and he's waving to me.
“Under my COVID Mask, the smile on my face was from ear to ear - I’m just so happy for him and his family.”
Fazli said he was overwhelmed to finally be in Australia.
“I am overwhelmed and not sleep yet,” he said.
“It is hard to leave your life (but) I am very happy to the government, and Mr Jason Scanes who is work hard for Afghan interpreters who left in Afghanistan.
“He is a person who has sent our sound to the government.
“I never forgot his best action toward me.”
About 4,100 Afghans were evacuated from Kabul between August 18-26 during Australia’s military evacuation, one of the largest humanitarian airlifts in the nation’s history. With thousands remaining behind in perilous conditions after the United States and other donors cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan became dependent during 20 years of war, and more than $9bn of the country’s hard currency assets frozen, the country is now in economic crisis and facing devastating famine.
In response, the Australian government initially said 3,000 places within Australia's humanitarian intake would be offered exclusively to Afghan nationals under its 2021 humanitarian program , but that number is expected to increase over the next year, according to the Department of Home Affairs. This allocation is supposed to be separate from Afghans who have come to Australia on 449 visas.
Last month, a Senate inquiry heard that none of those humanitarian visas had yet been issued, despite there being more than 26,000 applications.
To donate to assist former Afghan interpreters, visit forsakenfighters.org.au
Kate Banville is a Townsville-based journalist. A seven-year Army veteran, she has been a defence reporter for the Townsville Bulletin and has also worked at WIN News in Townsville and ABC Gold Coast. Connect with her on Twitter: @katebanville