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This Australian embassy guard was shot at in Afghanistan but still can’t get a protection visa

Earlier this month, Ali (not his real name) was driving home with his wife and young son after visiting family near the Afghan capital Kabul.

As he turned to his wife to ask if she liked the song playing on the radio, he says he heard gunfire ring out.

About five shots hit the family car, two shattering glass from the front windscreen to the back window, and one hitting the driver’s seat where Ali was sitting, only just missing him.

“They attacked our car from the driver’s side,” Ali told SBS News from Kabul. 

As he speaks, he sits beside his wife, both of them still shaken.

Five rounds hit the car, including one that barely missed Ali* in the driver's seat

Five rounds hit the car, including one that barely missed Ali* in the driver’s seat.

SBS News/supplied

“When we reached home, my baby was crying and did not stop crying for an hour. My wife was also not in a good condition and she was not normal for two days,” he said. 

“When she remembers the incident, she does not talk. She is sad.”

SBS News has seen photographs of Ali’s damaged car and a letter documenting the incident that was emailed to Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and other Australian cabinet ministers. It is supported by the Australian not-for-profit group Forsaken Fighters. 

Ali, a father of three, fears his family was targeted by a Taliban operative because he worked for seven years as a security guard at the Australian embassy in Kabul. 

The embassy closed last month amid the withdrawal of international troops from the country.

Now, Ali and his family have gone into hiding.

The back window of Ali's* car after the attack.

The back window of Ali’s* car after the attack.

SBS News/supplied

His children have been pulled out of school and the family are staying indoors in what they described as a self-imposed prison.

“If I knew that work with the Australian embassy would have caused this much trouble to me, my children and my family, I would have become a labourer, not have worked at the Australian embassy,” Ali said.

He is in the process of applying for a humanitarian visa to come to Australia. But before he can submit his application, he needs his former employer, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), to certify his life is in danger because of his service.

Other Afghans who worked for Australia at the embassy have previously told SBS News they feared for their safety now it has closed. 

Calls are also coming for more to be done to protect Afghan interpreters who worked with Australia, who also fear for their lives in the face of the resurgent Taliban. 

DFAT did not respond to SBS News’ request for comment. 

Its outgoing secretary Frances Adamson told the media at an event on Wednesday: “we do recognise that the Afghans who have served us, some of them are in actual danger, some are in potential danger and we take that responsibility very seriously”.

‘Classed as traitors’

Paul Johnstone was the security commander at the Kabul embassy in 2012. His role involved training the local guards, many of whom became his friends.

“These guys are very concerned, they’re scared, they are very fearful for their own safety and that of their family,” he said.

Mr Johnstone said it is plausible the Taliban was behind the attack on Ali.

Paul Johnstone (right) was the security commander at the Kabul embassy in 2012

Paul Johnstone (right) was the security commander at the Kabul embassy in 2012.

SBS News/supplied

“Anyone that is seen to, or known to, be working with foreign governments, they are classed as traitors by the Taliban. These guys, really, they’re marked,” he said.

The Taliban said earlier this month Afghans who worked with the West will not be killed if they renounce their former employers.

“We viewed them as our foes when they were directly standing in the ranks of our enemies, but when they abandon enemy ranks and opt to live as ordinary Afghans in their homeland, they will not face any issues,“ the group said in a statement.

Mr Johnstone is nevertheless pushing for the paperwork that certifies the guards’ lives are in danger to be made a priority as the Taliban is gaining land.

It has launched major offensives targeting government forces since early May when the US military began its final troop withdrawal and claims to have seized more than 50 of Afghanistan’s 421 districts. 

Many of the claims are disputed by the Afghan government and independent verification is difficult to establish.

Mr Johnstone fears Kabul could be in danger when the last US and Australian forces leave in September.

“When the last foreign troops leave Afghanistan on 11 September, my concern is on 12 September, every one of these people that have worked for us, if they are not out of Afghanistan by then, their lives are in extreme danger,” he said.

“My concern for my friends over there is that their lives could, you know, be taken from them.”

My concern for my friends over there is that their lives could be taken from them.

– Paul Johnstone, Former embassy security commander

In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it was “urgently processing” the on-hand caseload of its Afghan LEE (Locally Engaged Employee) program for those at risk of harm due to their support of Australia in Afghanistan.

“Visa grants this year under the LEE program are the highest since 2013-14,” a spokesperson said, adding that about 1,400 visas have been granted to Afghan LEEs and their eligible family members since 2013 

“The department is working with other government agencies and providers to facilitate the processing of applications and the movement of these visa holders to Australia.

“Visa applications from certified LEEs are afforded the highest processing priority within the Humanitarian Program but applicants must still meet rigorous health, character and national security requirements. Depending on individual circumstances this may take a significant period of time.”

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