Selective compassion shown to those fleeing Taliban and Ukraine

Within days, the Australian government committed to additional humanitarian places for those fleeing Ukraine, on top of the ordinary intake, albeit we are yet to see the detail. The temporary visas of those in Australia are being extended automatically by the Department of Home Affairs and visa applications immediately prioritised. All within a matter of days, some hours. As Australia should.

In contrast, it has been six months since the fall of Kabul and the Afghanistan-Australian community has continued to advocate for an additional 20,000 humanitarian places for the most at-risk at the hand of the Taliban, including human rights advocates, persecuted groups such as the Hazaras and LGBTIQ+ people, and those who risked their lives to fight alongside Australian troops in Afghanistan.

A destroyed armored personnel carrier in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Credit:PA

However, despite promises of a significant announcement from the government, we have seen zero additional humanitarian places committed to those fleeing the Taliban. We have seen no automatic extension of visas – indeed refugees on temporary visas still need to actively seek re-application.

We’ve seen Minister Alex Hawke take legal action to try to return a Hazara asylum seeker back to Afghanistan. We’ve seen the government allowing emergency evacuation visas granted to people in Afghanistan to lapse. And the government’s Direction 80, which deprioritizes the family reunification visas of many people from Afghanistan, continues to be in place.

In contrast to our response to the escalating crisis in Afghanistan, our government has been quick to announce measures to assist those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.


In fact we’ve seen the Prime Minister repeatedly state that Australia’s response to the crisis in Ukraine, is that of how we responded to Afghanistan. This couldn’t be further from the reality.

The Prime Minister has promised a special intake of refugees from Ukraine, on top of Australia’s existing annual humanitarian intake. No such promises nor commitments have been made for those fleeing Afghanistan.

Australia does need to take further steps to protect those groups exceptionally vulnerable in the Ukraine crisis, including additional protections put in place for at-risk groups, such as those fleeing who are LGBTIQ+. From the onset of both crises we’ve witnessed targeted attacks on this group. Russians claim to have a list of LGBTIQ+ people they will kill. Same has been said about the Taliban. In both instances it is harder for LGBTIQ+ people to leave safely and it is not guaranteed that a neighbor or the first country one can get to is a safe country for an LGBTIQ+ person.

The lack of action in response to the suffering of people in Afghanistan – 1 million people have been forced to flee, and another 22 million are facing food shortage, including 1 million children who face starvation – is even more inexplicable given that Afghanistan was the longest war in our history and those 20 years we were in Afghanistan, we made significant promises to the people of Afghanistan.


To be clear, we support any action by the Australian government that alleviates the suffering of people facing an invasion and a humanitarian crisis, we celebrate the immediate action taken for those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

We would like to see our government respond with the same proportionate urgency and compassion to people fleeing the Taliban as those impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have no moral right to differentiate the suffering. No one is free until we are all free.

Selective compassion to suffer in a world where we see a rise in autocratic rule, especially in our region is detrimental to our communities, our morality and our national interest.

Renee Dixson is a chair of the Forcibly Displaced People Network, the Australian LGBTIQ+ refugee-led organisation. Renee fled Ukraine in 2012 as an LGBTIQ+ human rights advocate.

Arif Hussein is a human rights lawyer at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service and a member of the Afghanistan-Afghanistan Advocacy Network.

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