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Afghanistan

Afghanistan

Overview

The Taliban has declared an ‘interim government’ in Afghanistan, having taken power on 15 August 2021 after the fall of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. This occurred after a military advance through provinces in Afghanistan in 2021, and despite signing of the Doha Agreement between the US and the Taliban in February 2020.

Afghanistan continues to face substantial humanitarian and economic challenges. Australia is committed to supporting the Afghan people in these difficult times, including through our humanitarian program and advocacy on important issues such as human rights.

Australian officials engage with the Taliban regime in multilateral and group meetings to reinforce our expectations. Our engagement does not confer legitimacy on the Taliban. Australia, with the international community, will hold the Taliban to account for its actions, commitments, and applicable international obligations. This includes the safe passage of those seeking to depart Afghanistan, action to counter terrorism, the delivery of humanitarian assistance in accordance with international principles, and the upholding of human rights, including the rights of women and girls to education, civic and economic life.

Economic and trade information

Political situation

The Taliban’s return to power happened more quickly than the international community anticipated. Despite the February 2020 US-Taliban Agreement and international efforts to encourage the Taliban and the Afghan Government to engage in meaningful talks for a political settlement, the Taliban reneged on its undertakings and accelerated a military advance through the provinces during 2021, culminating in August 2021. Its military victories in provincial areas, encirclement of provincial capitals, and control of key transportation routes and border crossings, gave the Taliban a position of strength and significant military momentum. It became clear the Taliban was uninterested in a political solution when a military victory was within its grasp. From 6 to 15 August, all 34 provincial capitals fell to the Taliban.

The Taliban announced what it denotes as an ‘interim government’ in Afghanistan on 8 September 2021.

Economic situation

The recent developments in Afghanistan have pushed the country into an economic crisis. Contributing factors include the reduction in international assistance, loss of access to assets abroad, and severe drought conditions adversely affecting agricultural production. Australia’s humanitarian assistance program seeks to alleviate the impacts of the economic crisis on the people of Afghanistan.

In the absence of credible official data, the World Bank provides an assessment of the economic situation in Afghanistan.

Australia’s engagement with Afghanistan

Following the events of August 2021, the Australian Government established an Interim Mission on Afghanistan (IMA) in Doha, Qatar. The IMA manages Australia’s interests in Afghanistan and works with international partners, many of which have established missions on Afghanistan in Qatar, to influence the Taliban.

Australia’s international engagement remains focused on:

  • safe passage from Afghanistan for Australian citizens and those eligible to travel to Australia
  • reinforcing regional stability, including through humanitarian support
  • influencing the Taliban to respect human rights, particularly for women and girls, and minorities, and to observe humanitarian principles
  • encouraging formation of an inclusive political process in Afghanistan, and
  • deterring any transnational terrorism resurgence and maintaining our counter terrorist financing efforts, including by working with the Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism and the Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking.

Australia’s longstanding policy is to recognise States, not governments. The Australian Government does not extend or withhold formal recognition to new regimes. Australia will continue to judge the Taliban regime by its actions.

Departures from Afghanistan

While our ability to provide assistance in Afghanistan is severely limited at present, the Australian Government continues to provide support to Australian citizens, permanent residents and those eligible to travel who are seeking to leave Afghanistan. This includes through dedicated teams in DFAT and the Department of Home Affairs and the work of consular officials across the region.

The Australian Government has made available a total of 31,500 places for Afghan people under its migration program. This comprises 26,500 places under the Humanitarian Program and at least 5,000 places under the Family stream of the Migration Program.

Afghan nationals who wish to apply for a visa to Australia should refer to the Afghanistan page of the Department of Home Affairs website.

Humanitarian assistance and development cooperation

The Australian Government is committed to working with partners to support the Afghan people. Since 2001, Australia has provided over $1.6 billion in development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. In doing so, we have helped support meaningful gains in the lives of Afghans, including in the form of dramatic improvements in women’s education, health and participation, and in preventing violence against women.

Australia paused most of its development cooperation program following the Taliban taking power on 15 August 2021 to allow a review of programs and to ensure Australia meets its United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions obligations. These factors and the humanitarian challenges facing the country have necessitated a reprioritisation of the previous development cooperation program and changes in the way Australian assistance is delivered.

On 31 March, Australia committed an additional $40 million to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan, to be disbursed in 2022. The appeal raised approximately USD2.4 billion.

This builds on former Minister Payne’s 13 September 2021 announcement of $100 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to the Afghanistan crisis from 2021 to 2024, with a specific focus on supporting women and girls. This includes:

  • around $45 million from the existing bilateral aid program to meet immediate humanitarian needs in Afghanistan
  • $20 million to support neighbouring countries hosting Afghan refugees, and mitigate possible irregular migration impacts and people smuggling
    • including $5 million to the UN Refugee Agency Supplementary Appeal, announced on 20 August
  • around $35 million from the bilateral aid program, from 2022 to 2024, to respond to the protracted nature of the crisis, including to provide basic health services, food and shelter.

Australia is working with three UN agencies in Afghanistan – the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, and the United Nations Population Fund – to deliver humanitarian assistance, while also ensuring compliance with relevant sanctions obligations.

Australia’s humanitarian assistance and other programs are implemented in accordance with UNSC sanctions and do not benefit the Taliban directly.

Human Rights

Australia continues to add its voice to international calls to the Taliban regime to uphold, respect and protect all human rights in Afghanistan. In December 2021, Australia joined the governments of 22 other countries in issuing a joint statement expressing deep concern at reports of summary killings and enforced disappearances of former members of the Afghan security forces. Reported cases must be investigated promptly and in a transparent manner, those responsible must be held accountable, and these steps must be clearly publicised as an immediate deterrent to further killings and disappearances.

The Australian Government is particularly concerned about the deteriorating situation for women and girls, with reports of closures of girls and mixed schools, their non-inclusion in government and civil society, increased early and forced marriages, and the prohibition of women leaving their homes without a male guardian. Equal access to health, education, employment, and other services must be ensured, including in internationally funded programs.

Australia strongly condemns the increasing level of intimidation and violence that journalists, media workers and other individuals engaged in informing the public endure in Afghanistan. Journalists must be free to report in full safety, without fear of violence, reprisals or intimidation. We urge all actors in Afghanistan to protect the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including for members of the media, and to uphold international humanitarian principles and Afghanistan’s international human rights obligations. Those who have committed acts of violence and intimidation against journalists and media workers must be held accountable.

Sanctions

As a member of the UN, Australia fully implements the UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions regime in relation to the Taliban. The sanctions regime includes restrictions on supplying arms and related matériel, providing services related to military activities, providing assets to designated persons or entities, dealing with the assets of designated persons or entities, and travel bans on designated persons.

In recognition of the humanitarian challenges facing Afghanistan, the UNSC agreed on 22 December (resolution 2615 (2021)) to exemptions for humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan, while encouraging providers to ‘…use reasonable efforts to minimize the accrual of any benefits, whether as a result of direct provision or diversion, to individuals or entities designated on the 1988 Sanctions List…’.

Further details regarding Australia’s implementation of the sanctions regime – including the humanitarian exemption – can be found at the Australian Sanctions Office.

The United States’ Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control has also issued a number of licence exemptions with regard to its own sanctions which may assist development partner’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Travel information

We continue to advise against travel to Afghanistan.

Afghan nationals who wish to apply for a visa to Australia should refer to the Afghanistan page of the Department of Home Affairs website.

Embassies and consulates

Australia

The Australian Government has established an Interim Mission on Afghanistan (IMA) operating at the Australian Embassy in Doha, Qatar. The IMA manages Australia’s interests in Afghanistan and helps to deepen our cooperation with key international partners, many of which have established missions on Afghanistan in Qatar. At present, Australia does not have formal diplomatic relations with Afghanistan. The IMA’s Twitter account is: @AusMissionAF.

Passport and consular services are not available through the IMA. Australians still in Afghanistan in need of consular assistance should contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305. Australians, permanent residents, and immediate family members who have made their way out of Afghanistan and require consular assistance should contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate.

For all visa enquiries, see the Afghanistan page on the Department of Home Affairs website.

Afghanistan Embassy in Australia

Following the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan government some embassies continue to operate independently. The Australian Government is unable to comment on the functions of the Afghan Embassy in Australia.

Further information

Statements by the Foreign Minister

Other statements and releases

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