With the Australian government under pressure to accelerate visas for the Defence Force local employees in Afghanistan, one federal politician said he would not be alive if not for his Afghan interpreter.
It comes as reports surface that evacuations for Afghans who worked alongside the ADF and their families could come within weeks.
Solomon Labor MP Luke Gosling witnessed first hand how the expertise of Afghan interpreters saved Australian lives while working in southern Afghanistan in 2003 to secure elections alongside an Afghan election team, the UN mission and the ISAF.
"In one specific instance, I received advice on a particular course of action that if not taken would have likely ended in death," Mr Gosling said.
"Had I not taken the advice of that Afghan interpreter, I am certain that I wouldn't be here today. Understandably I feel very grateful to the translator who gave me this advice. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who served in Afghanistan who doesn't feel the same."
Mr Gosling said the mission would have been impossible without the essential work performed by the interpreters, who did more than just translate words.
"They acted as cultural brokers, reading the environment and assisted by providing advice which helped make decisions, with often inadequate information," he said. "They provided a deep cultural, environmental and situational awareness."
Federal Labor has urged the government to fast-track visas for all Afghan interpreters and local staff, following reports of direct threats against their safety by the Taliban in the wake of the closure of Australian embassy in Kabul last month.
While reports suggest some will be evacuated, hundreds of interpreters and local staff are still seeking protection, and it is not clear if the evacuations can proceed under current travels restrictions. A Home Affairs spokesperson said visa applications from certified locally engaged employees are "afforded the highest processing priority" within the humanitarian program, but must still meet rigorous health, character and national security requirements.
It's a two-stage process, first requiring an assessment that they face significant harm as a result of their support to Australia's mission, after which they may apply for a humanitarian visa.
"Depending on individual circumstances this may take a significant period of time. The Department of Home Affairs is urgently processing the on-hand Afghan [locally engaged employee] caseload," the spokesperson said.
More than 90 visas have been approved for Afghan local employees and eligible family since the beginning of May, with around 1400 visas approved since 2013.
In budget estimates officials said approved approximately 60 per cent of applications received had been processed, and for travel they would need to find "commercial options".
Covid restrictions in place to protect Australians made it difficult to arrange travel, but the spokesperson said they will travel when the government is able to secure a travel path for them.
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