Tue. Oct 19th, 2021

The United States withdrawal from Afghanistan immediately emptied the hope of an immediate evacuation for Afghans who had worked for the US or NATO governments during the 20-year commitment in the country.

For Abdul Matin Amiri, like thousands of other Afghans, the end of the chaotic and hasty evacuations by the US and other foreign governments was the latest setback in a five-year effort to leave his homeland and find security abroad. These efforts began in 2016 when he first applied for a special immigrant visa (SIV) available to Afghans who worked for the US government.

Amiri, who worked for the US-led NATO forces and as a journalist for the United Nations’ leading International Security Assistance Force, is one of an estimated tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans who may be eligible for relocation by the US or other Western powers. , through programs including the SIVs or the U.S.’s extensive category of refugee visas, which remain in the country after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

The departure relinquished control of the airport to the Taliban and made it difficult. evacuation efforts from other countries, almost all of which have closed their embassies in Afghanistan.

Khalil Ur-Rahman Haqqani, the Taliban’s security chief in Kabul, told Al Jazeera on August 22 that “all Afghans” must feel safe and that there should be a “General amnesty” across the country.

“I’m really scared,” Amiri told Al Jazeera in the last hours of the US withdrawal, adding that the Taliban had visited his home in Kandahar twice since taking power. “I always move from one house to another, so do my children.”

“I grew up in a democracy; I studied in democracy. “I lived in a country where I had the voice of freedom as a journalist,” he added. “I do not want my children to grow up free and under extremism.”

“Several foreign governments have promised to continue to help those they have worked with in Afghanistan – which the Taliban considers possible targets – but no one has made clear plans on what to expect next while they wait to see what form.” A Taliban government will not take over.

In the US, minutes after the last military flight left Afghan soil, General Kenneth McKenzie admitted to reporters: “We did not take out everyone we wanted to get out.” However, he held back on allegations that extending the operation for days would have made a noticeable difference.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has meanwhile confirmed that there will be no US diplomatic presence in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future, with operations for Afghanistan to Qatar.

However, in a tweet, he promised to hold on to the Taliban’s commitment to freedom of movement for “foreigners, visa holders and Afghans at risk. The international chorus on this is strong, and it will remain strong.”

On Monday, Blinken also said that Washington is working with neighboring countries to ensure the departure of the approximately 200 remaining U.S. citizens in the country and Afghan allies, either by country or by air.

“We have no illusion that this will happen easily or quickly,” Blinken said.

“Will they keep any of their promises?”

With the Taliban in control of the airport in Kabul, little clarity on when and how operations will resume there, and little Western consular resources for Afghans living in the country, there is a ‘long list of strangers’ after the departure of foreign troops, Betsy Fisher, US Strategy Director International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), told Al Jazeera.

“There were tens of thousands of people with close American connections who could not leave through the American airlift,” she said. “That’s what we know. What we do not know is basically everything else. ”

The questions, Fisher added, range from logistics to political: How will Afghans applying for SIVs appear for the required personal interviews? How will those who newly created Priority-2 US refugee visas reach a third country, from which should they apply? Will any neighboring third countries allow them?

“And then of course there’s the issue of safety,” Fisher told Al Jazeera. “Will the Taliban target people? Will they be an effective police force? Will they keep any of their promises? ”

Answers remain elusive for Ezatullah, who did not want to use his last hame. He told Al Jazeera that he believed his father was eligible for an SIV, after working for a contractor for the U.S. and British armies for 13 months.

Ezatullah, originally from Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan, went to Kabul airport at least seven times during the evacuation efforts, even a day after a bomb attack dead nearly 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. military personnel.

His e-mails to the US and UK are unanswered.

“I do not know what to do now,” he told Al Jazeera. ‘I do not know that there are other options. My dad qualifies, he worked for them. He protected them. ”

Numbers unclear

A full breakdown of how many Afghans are at risk due to their work with foreign governments or organizations remains elusive. Thus, a report is made of how many Afghans were actually evacuated – and under what circumstances.

The U.S. has said it has helped evacuate more than 123,000 civilians through Kabul airport, though the number includes those evacuated by U.S. and ‘coalition aircraft’. During a period of 18 days since August 15, when Kabul fell on the Taliban, U.S. planes have lifted more than 79,000 civilians, including 73,500 third-country nationals and Afghan civilians, McKenzie said Monday.

Earlier in the day, McKenzie added that there were about 49,000 evacuated “passengers” waiting for “follow-up” movement at U.S. facilities in the Middle East and Europe. Another 13,000 are housed at five installations in the US.

The US said earlier that about 7,000 SIV containers had arrived in the US since the evacuations began.

Meanwhile, Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief, said U.S. resettlement agencies had been advised by the government to prepare for about 20,000 Afghans with SIVs arriving in the coming weeks, and about 50,000 arriving at various refugee statuses.

He added the situation is moving fast.

“We were given a few hours ‘notice instead of, usually with the refugee relocation process, a few weeks’ notice that a specific family was arriving,” he told Al Jazeera.

‘No own fault’

But Kim Staffieri, the co-founder and director of the Association of Wartime Allies (AWA), said her group believes there is a big difference in the number of Afghans who have evacuated the US and the number they have to help.

According to AWA, there were a total of about 75,000 to 80,000 Afghans eligible for SIVs when U.S. evacuations began in late July, she said.

According to estimates by those eligible for the P-2 visa, the extensive category of refugees for former Afghan employees of U.S. organizations, the estimated 250,000 Afghans who were not evacuated on August 25, the New York Times reported last week, referring to data compiled by the AWA and the American University.

Staffieri insisted that if the Biden administration heeded warnings from groups like her, especially over the need to start evacuations earlier and address a ‘bottleneck’ in the SIV application process, more Afghans could leave the country. .

“I want people to understand that people who were waiting for the approval of the SIV mission or stopped for other unknown reasons were without their own fault,” she said.

“What I really want to make clear to the American public is how many people have failed the US government,” she said.

Amiri, for his part, said just days after the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, he was informed that his five-year SIV application was “still being reviewed”.

He was more successful with the British government, which informed him that he was eligible for evacuation, but he could not gain access to British staff in the pressure of thousands of people who had gathered at Kabul airport in a few days. ‘s efforts.

“I tried my best, and I was very close to losing my one-and-a-half-year-old son,” he said. “I did not want to risk my children, it was so difficult.”

Instead, he returned to Kandahar on Sunday.

“Now I’m waiting for a day to evacuate, maybe from a third country to the UK,” he told Al Jazeera.

“People who are gone have been forced to leave without dignity or respect,” he added. “It’s all because of the mismanagement of the evacuation process.”

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