The United States is in a race against time to speed up the prosecution of its former Afghan employees under threat from the Taliban military giant, but critics say the effort is too small and too late for Afghans who answered the Western call to build a more society. democratic. .
As of Friday, about 1,200 Afghans with special immigration visas (SIVs) had arrived in Fort Lee, Virginia, as part of the Operation Allies Refuge evacuation plan. The group, made up of former military interpreters, other American employees and their families, is a small fraction of the 18,000 Afghans known to have requested SIV for themselves and their families, who are desperate to leave as the Taliban close in on Kabul.
Many of those who received visas have not been able to leave, refugee advocates say. Some have been trapped in provinces that have already been invaded by the Taliban as one city falls after another with astonishing speed. And even visa recipients in Kabul have not been assigned a US government flight.
“These are people who have their visas, but an evacuation was never scheduled, so it’s a very strange situation,” said James Miervaldis, chairman of the board of the refugee support group, No One Left Behind.
The group, which was founded by refugees, is raising money to pay for commercial flights for Afghans with SIV status. So far they have raised $ 1 million and flown 41 Afghan families. Its immediate goal is to pay for the flights of 100 families, and possibly up to 500, if the US government does not meet the demand for flights.
The state department said on Friday it would increase the frequency of flights for visa holders.
“We have a solemn and sincere responsibility to these brave Afghans,” spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “Every day additional flights will start to land, and you will see that the total number will increase very rapidly in the next few days and weeks to come.”
The SIV application procedure so far has been time consuming and cumbersome, and the state department is struggling to find a safe place for Afghans in the middle of the process.
Negotiations are underway with Qatar to provide a support post for Afghan visa applicants, and 1,000 US troops have been dispatched to help with the process, but no agreement has been reached so far. Discussions have also been held with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Reuters reported that they had contacted Albania and Kosovo.
Krishanti O’Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said that given the security situation in Afghanistan, it was too late to start negotiations with third countries.
“The truth is that any effort to outsource our moral obligation to other countries has been advanced,” he said.
“Anything less than a total evacuation of all allies and their families would be an abdication of our moral responsibility. It is simply puzzling that the administration has resisted bringing them to US soil. It is ridiculous for us to go door to door asking other countries to do what we have the capacity to do. “
Those eligible for SIV represent only a portion of the Afghan population that is now extremely vulnerable because they joined Western-backed journalism companies, or women’s rights groups, worked to promote girls’ education or any number of social projects. or economic. Also excluded are former employees who did not work for the US long enough (one or two years depending on the position) to qualify for an SIV.
There are already reports from areas conquered by the Taliban of retaliatory killings, summary executions, strict restrictions on women’s work and cases of forced marriage.
Earlier this month, the US announced that those who had worked for US-funded NGOs or media organizations would be eligible for another type of visa, a P2. But to run, candidates would have to be outside of Afghanistan.
In an urgent cable to Washington published by ABC NewsActing US Ambassador to Kabul Ross Wilson said it was a difficult situation at a time when the Taliban control most of the border.
“Any assumption that Afghan refugees can reach safety on foot does not reflect the new reality,” Wilson wrote, noting that the group includes prominent women’s rights activists that the United States had “presented as examples of progress. towards gender equality “. but now they are in danger.
“To issue P2 status last week, it’s too late in the game again,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “There are countless journalists, teachers, women’s rights activists, and other civil society leaders who shared fundamental beliefs and ideals and worked closely with the mission of the United States government, and as a result, their lives are in danger. . It is our moral duty to offer them a path of protection as the security situation rapidly deteriorates. “
James Schwemlein, who worked for the World Bank and as senior adviser to the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, estimated that there could be 100,000 Afghans who could be eligible for visas under P2 status. But he argued that the door should be opened further, and not limited to Afghans working for US-funded organizations.
“Hundreds of thousands of Afghans made life decisions based on a hopeful vision of the future that the United States and our allies proactively fostered for two decades,” Schwemlein wrote in Twitter. “They have a lot to offer their country, our country and the world. Please don’t leave them behind. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism