Refugee and asylum seeker organisations and advocates have levelled criticism at the lack of provision in the budget made for refugees and asylum seekers, saying it constitutes yet another "step backwards" for the federal government.
In its budget, the federal government resisted a sector-wide call for an immediate additional humanitarian intake of 20,000 people from Afghanistan seeking asylum, instead promising 16,500 places over four years.
It also ignored calls to lift the historically low cap on the annual humanitarian intake, which remains at 13,750 places, down from 20,000 two years ago.
Jana Favero, director of advocacy and campaigns at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the budget left the over 150,000 Afghans who have applied for humanitarian visas since the fall of Kabul to compete for fewer than 10,000 humanitarian visas reserved for Afghans this year.
"You can see from those figures alone that the need greatly outweighs what [the government] has offered," Ms Favero said, adding that the 16,500 additional visas over four years was not a substantive increase, given it did not make up for the considerable cuts made to the humanitarian program since 2020.
"We celebrate that there'll be an additional 4,125 people from Afghanistan offered safety this year, which is 4,125 more than this time 72 hours ago; but it's plainly not enough and it hasn't come fast enough."
It's a view shared by Victoria's David MacPhail, president of Ballarat Rural Australians for Refugees, who said the budget response was "less than generous and less than responsible", in light of the deepening humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.
"The 16,500 places over four years will leave many people in Afghanistan in a desperate situation," he said.
"[The response] doesn't seem to understand the crisis people are experiencing in Afghanistan."
Mr MacPhail provided The Courier with correspondence from the Rural Australians for Refugees national Afghanistan subcommittee meeting this week, which detailed the horrific recent kidnapping of a 13-year-old Kabul girl at the hands of the Taliban.
The child's mother, who was a teacher prior to the fall of Kabul, had devised a plan for the child to live with her grandparents in another village, deep in the mountains, away from the Taliban.
But their vehicle was sighted by the Taliban on their journey to the village. In the late afternoon, some two hours after arriving at the grandparents' home, five armed Taliban men on motorcycles arrived at the home and abducted the terrified 13-year-old girl.
The mother, the correspondence read, "believes her daughter has been taken to a forced marriage and that she will never see her again".
Mr MacPhail said his organisation had received countless similar stories from their aid partners in Afghanistan, ranging from forced child marriages, boys being "press ganged" into the military to women committing suicide and hiding in caves in fear of what awaits them should the Taliban find them.
On top of that, millions in Afghanistan continued to fall victim to the famine created by food shortages in the country, which owe their existence to the freezing of international aid since the Taliban resumed power.
Mr MacPhail added that the budget had provided little in the way of hope for Ballarat's Hazara refugees, all of whom are on temporary protection visas with no prospect of either permanent protection or cost-of-living assistance forthcoming.
Echoing that view, Ms Favero said the 5000 Afghan refugees already residing in Australia and their families had effectively been "abandoned" by the federal government.
"These are people who have been living and working here for years, paying taxes, buying groceries from the same stores," she said.
"Their families remain trapped in Afghanistan and the only reason [their families] can't come here to join them is because of our temporary protection visa policy which punishes people who come by sea."
City of Ballarat Mayor Daniel Moloney, who also serves as chair of the Regional Capitals Australia organisation, said though there was far more Australia could do to resettle refugees, the strategy needed to be backed by policies which ensured regional cities had adequate housing to cater for higher numbers.
"We're a resource-rich nation that can do much better," he said. "Ballarat is constantly representing to the federal government that we're a welcoming city and we want to welcome more refugees to Ballarat."
"But our biggest challenge right now is regional housing and the broader housing shortage and that is something we look to the federal government with the support of state government to determine."
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