Escape from Afghanistan: Legal action in a humanitarian crisis

As the US and other western forces withdrew from Afghanistan in early September 2021 and the Taliban seized Kabul, the world watched.​​​​​​​

Trying to get the attention of Australian military

Among those watching were the friends, family and colleagues of the Afghan community in Queensland. Desperate to help their loved ones who were in imminent danger, they turned to the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) for help. In a matter of weeks, the service received more than 670 requests for assistance from mothers, fathers, brothers, daughters, husbands and wives who were desperate to secure safe passage out of Afghanistan for their loved ones.

As the second-oldest community legal centre in Queensland, RAILS was already planning how it could assist. With a staff of just 25, it was clear they would need to lean on their key partner organisations, like Allens, for support.

Following the swift formation of a specialist Afghanistan immigration legal clinic, RAILS called for pro bono resources to respond to the skyrocketing demand. Allens Brisbane Pro Bono Coordinator Meg Hogan was quick to coordinate the firm's help, with nine lawyers commencing work in the clinic immediately.

'Many of our lawyers have worked with RAILS in the past and didn't hesitate to offer their support. It was inspiring to see the team come together to make a material difference for people impacted by this crisis'. ​​​​​​​

Given the looming evacuation deadline in Afghanistan, it was a race against time to secure safe passage for those who'd requested assistance. The clinic ran for five days straight in the lead up to the formal evacuation of the US from Afghanistan, with Allens volunteers forming a large proportion of the team who helped with the caseload.

Crowds of people anxiously trying to get
into Kabul airport

Since the clinic opened, RAILS has assisted over 50 clients, with an initial focus on Australian citizens and visa holders in Afghanistan, and immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents. Allens lawyers worked to expedite application decisions to bring cases to the attention of DFAT and contact the Department of Home Affairs to prompt decisions on applications as quickly as possible.

The community impact of the work has been significant. RAILS Acting Executive Director Kylie McGrath said, 'The community was crying out for help. With the support and flexibility of Allens lawyers, we have been able to improve the safety and future outlook for many people on the ground in Afghanistan'.

'The Queensland Afghan community has been so grateful that lawyers are taking the time to assist them in their time of need'.

The crisis isn't over. RAILS continues to support many people who are still at risk in Afghanistan. Kylie estimates that legal support will be required for several years to come.

If you would like to support RAILS' efforts and keep its Afghanistan immigration legal clinic running, you can donate via their website.

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