"Operation Dust In The Eyes"
In mid-August, as the Taliban rapidly advanced towards the Afghan capital of Kabul, widespread panic ensued amongst those most at risk of reprisals by the militant would-be rulers of the country - persecuted ethnic groups like the Hazara, women and girls, and anyone who drew attention to themselves in ways that highlighted the metamorphosis away from severe religious conservatism advocated by the Taliban and their interpretation of sharia law. This included those who had worked with the departing Western forces, journalists, artists, academics, students, and athletes, particularly those who competed on the world stage representing their country.
The world watched in horror as hundreds of people converged on Hamid Karzai International Airport, braving Tailban roadblocks in a desperate attempt to gain a place on first a dwindling number of commercial flights, and then on the giant military planes piloted by the US, Australia and other Western allies as they evacuated their citizens, embassy staff, and those lucky few who had managed to obtain precious visas. People spent days camped on the dusty roads near the walls of the airport, pushing their way in hordes towards the soldiers on the high fences while brandishing evidence of their work with Western military in the vain hope that they and their families might be hauled out of the melee.
Amongst this chaos, a small team of human rights lawyers and sports advocates thousands of kilometres away in Australia, the UK, the US and Denmark leapt into action to help. No prizes for guessing that one of these was our very own Alison Battisson, working closely with one of Human Rights For All's board members, Nikki Dryden, a former Canadian Olympian who is herself now a human rights lawyer. Rounding out the group was Kat Craig, human rights lawyer and athlete advocate, working from London, Neil Fergus, a former DFAT diplomat and head of Intelligent Risks, a security advisory company, with contacts in the military and on the ground in Afghanistan, Haley Carter, former professional soccer player and US Marine and former assistant coach to the Afghan women's soccer team, and the former team captain, Khalida Popalzai, based in Denmark.
Over the next couple of weeks, little sleep was had. An extraordinary joint effort ensued, involving former Socceroo and refugee advocate Craig Foster, former Olympian and Member for Warringah, Zali Steggall, and government ministers Marisa Payne, Alex Hawke and Richard Colbeck to get visas applied for and approved. The net to scoop up as many vulnerable athletes and others as possible widened. Afghanistan's two Paralympians, Zakia Khudadadi (tae kwon do) and Hossain Rasouli (athletics), as well as the Afghan women's football team were among the many athletes who managed, with the help of the team messaging constant instructions, to get to points where allied soldiers were able to get them inside the airport to safety.
Alison and our incredible intern lawyer, Eric Zhang, completed huge numbers of visa applications in record time, surviving on naps, coffee and adrenaline. By the time the last Australian planeload departed for the UAE, the group had managed to evacuate 110 people.
A worldwide media story
Respected Australian sports journalist, Tracey Holmes of ABC's "The Ticket" followed the story from the beginning and broke the news in Australia with a significant interview and an accompanying podcast. The podcast speaks with all four of the key team, and is well worth your time.
Other notable coverage include pieces in the New York Times, The Guardian. and on CNN.
Alison in demand by the media
Alison has been sought for comment and discussion by a range of media over the last few months. She has featured in a number of podcasts, including legal podcast The Wigs (about AJL20), The Loving podcast by filmmaker and activist Genna Chanelle Hayes about detention centre truths, and the Really Interesting Women podcast by Richard Graham. All are definitely worth a listen!
HR4A moves house!
After almost three years, Human Rights For All now has an office of its own. We have been incredibly fortunate to have had access to pro-bono office space at the Gordon-Pymble Uniting Church since 2018, but due largely to Covid restrictions, this was no longer practical. As always, having enough money to operate has been a huge factor, but due to some significant philanthropic support, we are finally at a stage where we needed to commit to our own space.
We are now the proud tenants of a great space in Newtown (in a heritage building converted to offices), which allows us to work together in a location that is easy for everyone to get to, and also fits our budget. The only fly in this ointment is the current Sydney lockdown, with work-from-home orders meaning that we spent less than a month on site before we all had to start working from home! We look forward to being able to get back there soon.
To thank the amazing Gordon-Pymble Uniting Church community for their generosity, Alison presented the congregation with a poster of 56 Freedom Alerts (the amount of people we have gotten out of detention whilst we were based there). We are sad to say goodbye to everyone there and are so appreciative of what they have helped us to do.
We need your help more than ever!
We are at the stage now where we really need to have more lawyers working with us to meet the increasing demand for our help due to the many developments in the challenging cases that keep seeking us out. As decisions are handed down, glimmers of hope appear for other asylum seekers and we want to be able to help people who have been deprived of their liberty for so many years.
Human Rights For All is lucky to be supported by lawyers who volunteer endless hours of their time (like our amazing intern Eric!), but if we could pay them, we can take on more work, and hold on to these passionate legal minds who also need to earn a living. Your support, small or large, one-off or monthly, go directly to support the work we do to help our clients gain their freedom, and is always greatly appreciated.
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Thanks again for your support. Stay safe and well!
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