Biden should airlift vulnerable people out of Afghanistan before US forces withdrawal, refugee group urges

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Children pose for photographs in front of their tents at a camp for internally displaced families in Panjwai district of Kandahar province on March 31, 2021.

  • The US should consider “large-scale airlifts” of vulnerable people before leaving Afghanistan, a refugee group said.
  • Afghans could be relocated to US military bases or the US itself.
  • More than 17,000 people in Afghanistan who worked with the US government are still waiting for their visas.
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Before the US government leaves Afghanistan, it needs to find a way to protect the many people who will be left behind, even if that requires the same mass-scale airlifts that accompanied the fall of Saigon.

That’s according to the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a human rights group that lobbies for the displaced. In recommendations outlined Monday, it called on the Biden administration to resettle many more refugees from Afghanistan, including those who worked with the US government as well as journalists, activists, and others who risk being targeted by the Taliban.

“Time is running out for the US government to offer humanitarian protection to Afghans whose lives will be under threat after US withdrawal,” Adam Bates, the group’s policy counsel, said in a statement.

President Joe Biden announced earlier this month he plans to remove the last US troops in Afghanistan by September 11, marking two decades of war and occupation. He has pledged, however, to continue supporting the Afghan government, as well as conduct counter-terrorism missions as need be.

Afghans already compose one of the world’s largest group of refugees, with 2.7 million having fled their country by mid-2020, according to the United Nations. The fear is, after the US pulls out, the number seeking a better life abroad will skyrocket.

Already there is a backlog of more than 17,000 Afghans seeking special immigrant visas, which are awarded to those who worked with the US government. A total of 26,500 such visas have been allocated since 2014, per the US State Department. IRAP is urging the Biden administration to “surge” resources to the program to fastrack resettlement.

But many more will be seeking protection. The White House has committed to raising the annual cap on refugee admissions to 125,000 by next fiscal year — but that does not kick until October. In the meantime, the US should to “parole” Afghan candidates, exempting them from this year’s as yet undetermined cap and allow them to apply for more permanent status from the safety of the US. It should facilitate their transport, IRAP said, with “large-scale airlifts,” including to US military bases that could act as immigrant processing centers.

In 1975, after it had already withdrawn its own soldiers, the US military evacuated thousands of civilians by helicopter from Saigon after North Vietnamese forces overran the city, now named after Communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

“The United States must act now to protect vulnerable Afghans or risk a humanitarian catastrophe in the region,” Bates said. “President Biden should use all his power to protect these Afghan civilians.”

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