‘They will behead him’: race to rescue Afghans in final seven days

A former Afghan interpreter for the Australian Defence Force says his parents and siblings are being hunted in Kabul by the Taliban and is pleading for assistance to help get them out of the war-torn country.

As Australia faces a race against time to evacuate the remaining Afghans with Australian visas before the Taliban’s August 31 deadline, the extremist group’s promises of amnesty for those who worked for foreign forces and their families is being held up as a lie.

Four RAAF flights and one New Zealand Air Force flight managed to land at Kabul Airport on Monday night and rescued 650 people as part of Australia evacuation operation, bringing the total number of those rescued to almost 1700 since the Taliban’s takeover.

But still hundreds of Afghans with Australian visas are stranded as they struggle to navigate increasingly dangerous Taliban checkpoints, gunfire and tumultuous crowds to get to the airport.

Ahmad Elham Shahwar worked for the US and Australia in Afghanistan.

Ahmad Elham Shahwar, who worked as a translator with the Australian Defence Force in Uruzgan Province for six years, said his brothers Ahmed Ramin and Ahmed Millad, sister Manizha and parents Ghulam Rabani and Fawzia had been hiding in single room at a neighbour’s home after learning that the Taliban was searching for them and had taken the family’s house on Monday.

“Our neighbour came to my Dad and said, ’You need to escape as soon as possible,” said Shahwar, who lives in Melbourne with his wife Vida and three young children after being resettled in 2015.

“They put photos of the whole family up at a mosque [with a message saying] if anyone saw them, they need to give us some more information. If they catch my brother they will behead him. If they catch my father they will behead him.”

Shahwar receives a certificate of commendation in 2013 for his services as a translator.

Shahwar’s wife and children have been able to arrive home to Australia on an evacuation flight this week after being trapped in Kabul while visiting loved ones.

However, he fears for the safety of the rest of his family because of his previous association with the Australian and US defence forces. One of his brothers worked as a journalist for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he said.

“[The Taliban] don’t know I’m in Australia,” he said.

“Now this morning at 3am my mother, she called me and said, ‘our neighbour says we need to leave his house’. He says he doesn’t want to put his own life in danger. And he has got a wife and daughter as well.

“I’ve never seen my father cry and yesterday he cried because he doesn’t want to put his family in danger.”

Shahwar received multiple commendations from the ADF, which described him as an “extremely valuable asset”, praising him for roles including for accompanying Australian and Afghan forces on patrols.

According to documents seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, his brothers and sisters were interviewed with him at the Australian embassy in Kabul in 2013 as part of his application for a refugee and humanitarian visa. But they never received visas themselves.

US President Joe Biden is expected to make a decision within the next 24 hours on whether to extend an August 31 deadline to airlift Americans and their allies to safety, which the Taliban has labelled a “red line”.

“I’ve never seen my father cry and yesterday he cried because he doesn’t want to put his family in danger.”

Afghans with Australian visas have found it increasingly difficult to make it inside Kabul’s airport in recent days with large crowds pushing them back. One Afghan family with Australian humanitarian visas slept outside the airport on Monday night and was pushed back to the end of the line five times.

Another family said they were told they couldn’t come inside the airport because they didn’t have an Australian passport, despite having visas for Australia.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Tuesday “we are in obviously the back end of this campaign now” to evacuate people from Afghanistan, adding the situation would “continue to deteriorate”.

Labor MP Julian Hill on Tuesday accused the Morrison government of running a “blatantly discriminatory” visa program, saying many Afghan-Australians had been waiting years for family visas and now their relatives were stranded in Afghanistan.

“If your husband or wife is from Afghanistan, it takes on average 43 months for them to get their visa; from America or Western Europe, seven to nine months,” he said.

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