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Two years after fall of Kabul, tens of 1000’s of Afghans languish in limbo ready for US visas

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ISLAMABAD — When the Taliban took management of Afghanistan, Shukria Sediqi knew her days in security have been numbered. As a journalist who advocated for girls’s rights, she’d visited shelters and protected homes to speak to girls who had fled abusive husbands. She went with them to court docket once they requested for a divorce.

Based on the Taliban, who bar girls from most public locations, jobs and training, her work was immoral.

So when the Taliban swept into her hometown of Herat in western Afghanistan in August 2021 because the U.S. was pulling overseas, she and her household fled.

First they tried to get on one of many final American flights out of Kabul. Then they tried to go to Tajikistan however had no visas. Lastly in October 2021, after sleeping outdoors for 2 nights on the checkpoint into Pakistan amongst crowds of Afghans fleeing the Taliban, she and her household made it into the neighboring nation.

The aim? Resettling within the U.S. through an American authorities program set as much as assist Afghans in danger below the Taliban due to their work with the U.S. authorities, media and support businesses.

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However two years after the U.S. left Afghanistan, Sediqi and tens of 1000’s of others are nonetheless ready. Whereas there was some current progress, processing U.S. visas for Afghans has moved painfully slowly. To date, solely a small portion of Afghans have been resettled.

Most of the candidates who fled Afghanistan are operating via financial savings, residing in limbo in exile. They fear that the U.S., which had promised a lot, has forgotten them.

“What occurs to my kids? What occurs to me?” Sediqi requested. “No person is aware of.”

Throughout 20 years in Afghanistan after its 2001 invasion, the U.S. relied on Afghans serving to the U.S. authorities and army. Afghan journalists went to work at a rising variety of media retailers. Afghans, typically girls working in distant areas, have been the spine of support applications offering all the pieces from meals to tutoring.

Since 2009, the U.S. has had a particular immigrant visa program to assist Afghans like interpreters who labored immediately with the U.S. authorities and the army.

Then, within the waning days of the U.S. presence within the nation, the Biden administration created two new applications for refugees, increasing the variety of Afghans who might apply to resettle within the U.S.

The visas, often called P-1 and P-2, are for support staff, journalists or others who did not work immediately for the U.S. authorities however who helped promote objectives like democracy and an impartial media that put them in danger below the Taliban.

The applications have been meant to assist individuals like Enayatullah Omid and his spouse — Afghans who helped construct the nation after the 2001 Taliban ouster and have been at “threat attributable to their U.S. affiliation” as soon as the U.S. withdrew.

In 2011, Omid began a radio station in Baghlan province with the assistance of the U.S.-based media coaching nonprofit Internews and funding from the U.S. Company for Worldwide Growth. He was the station’s common supervisor however did all the pieces from reporting on-air to sweeping the flooring at evening. His spouse, Homaira Omid Amiri, additionally labored on the station and was an activist within the province.

When the Taliban entered Baghlan on Aug. 9, 2021, Omid mentioned he did one last item: He burned paperwork to maintain the Taliban from figuring out his workers. Then he and his spouse fled.

They stayed at shelters organized by a committee to guard Afghan journalists till the Taliban shut them down. Internews referred Omid to the U.S. refugee program within the spring of 2022. Informed he needed to go away Afghanistan for his case to proceed, Omid and his spouse went to Pakistan in July 2022.

Even in Pakistan Omid doesn’t really feel protected. Nervous concerning the Taliban’s attain, he’s moved thrice. There are police raids concentrating on Afghans whose visas have run out. As he spoke to The Related Press, he was getting textual content messages about raids in one other Islamabad neighborhood and puzzled how a lot he ought to inform his already burdened spouse.

He mentioned America has a saying: Depart nobody behind.

“We wish them to do it. It shouldn’t be solely a saying for them,” he mentioned.

The American airlift in August 2021 carried greater than 70,000 Afghans to security, together with tens of 1000’s of Individuals and residents of different international locations — aircraft after aircraft loaded with the fortunate ones who managed to make their method via the large crowds encircling Kabul airport. Most gained entry to the U.S. below a provision often called humanitarian parole.

Many extra are nonetheless ready. There are about 150,000 candidates to the particular immigrant visa applications — not together with members of the family. A report by the Affiliation of Wartime Allies mentioned on the present charge it might take 31 years to course of all of them.

Individually, there are 27,400 Afghans who’re within the pipeline for the 2 refugee applications created within the remaining days of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, in response to the State Division. That does not embrace members of the family, which doubtlessly provides tens of 1000’s extra. However because the U.S. left Afghanistan it is solely admitted 6,862 of those Afghan refugees, principally P-1 and P-2 visa candidates, in response to State Division figures.

In June, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned the U.S. has relocated about 24,000 Afghans since September 2021, apparently referring to all of the resettlement applications mixed.

Among the many refugee program candidates are about 200 AP staff and their households, in addition to workers of different American information organizations nonetheless struggling to relocate to the U.S.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, mentioned the U.S. refugee course of usually will be agonizingly sluggish, and waits of so long as 10 years are widespread. Moreover, former U.S. President Donald Trump gutted the refugee system, decreasing the annual variety of accepted refugees to its lowest ever.

Different challenges are distinctive to Afghan immigrants, mentioned Vignarajah. Many Afghans destroyed paperwork in the course of the Taliban takeover as a result of they nervous about reprisals. Now they want them to show their case.

“The grim actuality is that they’ll doubtless be ready for years on finish and sometimes in extraordinarily precarious conditions,” Vignarajah mentioned.

In a current report, the Particular Inspector Common for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a physique created by Congress to supervise authorities spending in Afghanistan, faulted the assorted resettlement applications arrange for Afghans.

“Bureaucratic dysfunction and understaffing have undermined U.S. guarantees that these people could be protected in a well timed method, placing many 1000’s of Afghan allies at excessive threat,” the report mentioned.

It additionally criticized the shortage of transparency surrounding the refugee applications, which it mentioned has left Afghans contemplating whether or not to go away their nation to await processing with out “essential info” they want for such an important resolution.

In an indication of the confusion surrounding the method, candidates like Omid and his spouse have been instructed they needed to go away Afghanistan to use, a expensive endeavor involving promoting their possessions, going to a different nation and ready. They, like many others, ended up in Pakistan — one of many few international locations that enables Afghans in — solely to find the U.S. was not processing refugee functions there.

That modified late final month when the State Division mentioned it might start processing functions in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, Congress has to this point didn’t act on a invoice that seeks to enhance efforts to assist Afghans nonetheless struggling to get to America.

The State Division declined an AP request for an interview however mentioned in an announcement it’s dedicated to processing Afghan refugee visas. In June, Blinken applauded the efforts which have gone into serving to Afghans resettle in America however emphasised the work continues.

On the identical time, the Biden administration has made progress in recovering from the Trump-era curtailment of the refugee system. The administration raised the cap on refugees admitted to the U.S. to 125,000 a yr, in comparison with Trump’s 15,000 in his remaining yr in workplace. It’s unlikely the Biden administration will attain the cap this yr, however the variety of refugees and Afghans admitted is growing.

Shawn VanDiver, who heads a coalition supporting Afghan resettlement efforts referred to as #AfghanEvac, mentioned he does not agree with criticism that the refugee applications are a failure.

They’ve gotten off to a “actually sluggish begin and there are weak individuals which might be ready for this a lot wanted aid,” he mentioned. “However I additionally know that … from my conversations with authorities, that there’s motion taking place to push on this.”


Left with little info, Afghans in Pakistan evaluate what they hear from U.S. officers about their {cases} in What’s App discussion groups which have organized social media protests demanding swifter U.S. motion.

“Keep away from placing our lives at risk once more,” one put up learn.

Pakistan was already dwelling to tens of millions of Afghans who fled many years of battle when the Taliban returned to energy and an estimated 600,000 extra surged into the nation. Whereas many had legitimate journey paperwork, renewing them is a prolonged and dear course of. Raids on the lookout for Afghans with expired visas have heightened tensions.

Abdul, who declined to offer his surname for concern of arrest as a result of his visa has expired, labored as head of safety for an support group in Afghanistan that specialised in financial assist for girls. The dangers have been monumental; three colleagues have been killed whereas he labored there.

One in all his final duties was getting the group’s overseas workers to the airport to flee. The group stayed open into 2022, when the Taliban detained Abdul for 2 weeks. After his launch, a Taliban member mentioned he might shield his household — if Abdul gave him his daughter in marriage.

Abdul knew it was time to go away. He, his spouse and youngsters fled that evening to Iran. Late final yr, once they have been instructed their referral to one of many refugee applications had been authorized, they went to Pakistan. Since then, there’s been no info.

Their visas now expired, the household is terrified to go away the home.

“The longer term is totally darkish,” Abdul mentioned. “I’m not afraid to die, I’m simply actually nervous about the way forward for my kids.”

Santana reported from Washington. AP reporters Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed.

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