Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News
Peter Stefanovic: Back to our top story now. 20 Australians have been able to leave the Gaza Strip after its southern border with Egypt was temporarily opened overnight. Joining us live now is the Assistant Foreign Minister, Tim Watts. Tim, good to see you, thanks for your time. So, yeah, I'm just after some clarification on the breakdown here. 23 in total, 20 were Australians. Who are the other three?
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you, Peter. As you say, we're incredibly relieved that overnight, 23 individuals registered with DFAT were able to cross that border. 20 of those individuals were Australian citizens. But when Australia provides consular assistance, we regularly provide consular assistance to permanent residents of Australia and immediate family members. I can't go into the specific details of individuals for privacy reasons, but it's not just Australian citizens that are supported in consular efforts like this.
Peter Stefanovic: Right so I mean, there's two who are family members of citizens but not actually citizens.
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Yes, that's not uncommon, Peter. That's the case on consular crises around the world.
Peter Stefanovic: Okay and then the third one, what was the 23rd one?
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, as I say, Peter, I'm not going to go into the individual details of –
Peter Stefanovic: I'm just trying to work out here if they're not Australian citizens –
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: As I say there are general categories.
Peter Stefanovic: No, I understand that. I'm just trying to work out here what kind of checks and balances need to be done if someone's not specifically an Australian citizen.
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Oh, Peter, there are extensive checks done as part of these consular processes. The Department of Home Affairs is integral in these processes, and this is a crisis that's been going on for three weeks now. So, these people are able to be registered well in advance, and their status to be able to check well in advance. And this is not an uncommon process at all when we're providing this kind of consular assistance.
Peter Stefanovic: So, how many remain now, Tim, who want to get out?
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: So, we're currently providing consular assistance to 65 individuals in Gaza and we – Australians and their family and permanent residents in Gaza, who we understand it's an incredibly distressing time for them and for their families back in Australia. We're doing everything we can to communicate directly through them, through multiple channels to ensure that they have the best possible information they need for their safety and for options for departure. You know, we're very thankful that this initial cohort has been able to cross at the Rafah crossing, but we are continuing to push for remaining Australian-supported individuals to be able to cross at the Rafah crossing.
Peter Stefanovic: Any idea when the next window will open?
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, it's a rapidly changing and evolving situation, Peter. Last night's crossing was the product of extensive discussions between diplomats, officials, foreign ministers, myself, the Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, with our counterparts in the region. So, the conditions for that crossing to occur were some time in coming together, but we're hopeful and we're continuing to push for Australians - the remaining Australians - to be able to cross the crossing as soon as possible.
Peter Stefanovic: Where do they go – once they've made it through the Rafah crossing, Tim, where do they go and what help is provided to their onward journey?
Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Yeah, so, we pre-positioned Australian consular officials in Egypt to meet these Australians as they come across the border. They've been in contact with these individuals for some time, providing that emotional support and logistical communication. From there, Australian consular officials provide support on onward travel arrangements and that will differ from a case-to-case basis on what the desires and the intent of people are. Of the around 2,000 people who have now left either Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories, around 800 of those on those assisted departure flights, many of them have come back to Australia. There are others who have places of safety closer to the region, so that will depend on the individual circumstances of those people.
Peter Stefanovic: Tim Watts, the Assistant Foreign Minister. Thanks for your time, Tim, we'll talk to you again soon.
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