Interview with Fauziah Ibrahim, ABC News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Humanitarian foreign aid, Sudan conflict, assisting displaced Australians in Sudan

Johanna Nicholson: The Federal Government has committed $6 million in humanitarian aid in response to the conflict in Sudan. $1 million will go to the Red Cross to provide medical supplies, food, water, sanitation and emergency shelter, while a further $5 million will go to other international organisations.

Fauziah Ibrahim: Now, the government has reiterated its call for a permanent end to the fighting. Let's get more on this with Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts, who joins us now from Melbourne.

A very good morning to you, Minister

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you.

Fauziah Ibrahim: So, this aid that Australia will be providing, is this in response to a call from Sudan or from the United Nations?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, clearly, the world community is following the conflict of Sudan - in Sudan with quite significant anxiety at the moment. The UN has put out a call for assistance, the emergency relief agencies that are leading that support there. And the situation we're seeing is quite dire. There are around 330,000 internally displaced people within Sudan, and we've already seen around 100,000 people flee to adjoining countries to Sudan. So, that's countries like Egypt, like Chad and like South Sudan.

So, clearly, there is going to be significant humanitarian challenge to support those people. But within Sudan itself, we're already seeing the most vulnerable paying a significant price of this conflict. So, medical supplies are very short at hand. Food and fuel are becoming short at hand as well. The sanitation situation is becoming problematic. So, this contribution from the Australian Government is a contribution to help a looming humanitarian catastrophe in that region.

Fauziah Ibrahim: Yeah, you've certainly painted a very dire picture of Sudan. How many humanitarian visas has the Australian Government issued to the people of Sudan?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: So, people in Sudan can apply for humanitarian visas with Australia, and the Department of Home Affairs is prioritising visa applications from Sudan for temporary visas, for family visas, for skilled visas that are already in the system now. I'm very pleased to say that 237 Australians have now safely left the country. 100 of those, around about 100 of those have safely returned to Australia. Now, we put on two Royal Australian Air Force flights from the Port of Sudan that safely lifted 153 people out, including 57 Australians. So, we've had a very significant effort to get Australians safely out of that conflict zone. And I'm pleased to say that there have been no loss of life or injury to Australians as part of that operation.

Fauziah Ibrahim: There are still reports, though, that there are Australians who find it very difficult to leave the war-torn country. Australia, of course, doesn't have an embassy in Khartoum, so these Australians reaching points of evacuation for them would be very costly. The paperwork is very bureaucratic as well, and they have complained of unclear directives from DFAT. How are you addressing these issues?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: So, we're currently tracking 152 Australians who are still in the country and the situation that we confront in assisting those people is a challenging one. There's not an Australian Embassy in Sudan. Communications infrastructure is patchy at best. It's coming in and out of operation. So, we've launched a very significant consular operation to assist them. Working with partner countries that do have people on the ground. We've forward deployed consular officials to third countries around the region. So, we have consular officials operating in Djibouti, in Cyprus, in Cairo, really sort of moving forward and assisting those operations - in Jeddah as well, particularly in Saudi Arabia.

And those Royal Australian Air Force flights that I mentioned brought DFAT crisis response teams into the country to Port Sudan. They rode in on those flights, they assisted Australians to get on those flights and they assisted them to get back. So, we're really mounting an extraordinary operation across Australia, across multiple countries in Africa in order to get Australians home safe.

Fauziah Ibrahim: Minister, all eyes, of course, on the budget, the Federal Budget to be handed down on Tuesday as well. I wonder, has there been more aid slated for our Pacific neighbours?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, there's a lot of speculation leading up into the Budget. We'll see all the details released on Tuesday night. We have already significantly increased our aid contribution to the Pacific region, that region that was frankly neglected in the past. But for the full details of the budget night announcements, we'll just have to wait a couple more days.

Fauziah Ibrahim: All right. Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs Tim Watts. Thank you so much for joining us on Weekend Breakfast.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you.

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