Where Do Afghan Refugees Go Next?

On August 24th, Airbnb announced that it would give 20,000 refugees free temporary housing, and 165 refugees have already been placed in housing across the United States. Companies in the U.S. like Texas Medical Technology are using their resources to provide jobs, housing, and accommodations for Afghan refugees. With bipartisan support of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program, the U.S. is set to provide up to 34,500 visas in the coming months to interpreters, embassy employees, and others who have aided the U.S. during its 20-year presence. The SIV requirements, however, include letters of recommendation, documentation describing affiliation with the U.S., and in-person interviews. The SIV process is notoriously known for year-long delays and poor interagency communication. In response, U.S. President Biden initiated the Operation Allies Refuge program to airlift special visa applicants and their families from Kabul. Other visa applicants are being sent to U.S. military sites in countries like Qatar, Kuwait, and Germany for processing.

On August 20th, President Biden stated to reporters that he would “mobilize every resource necessary” to evacuate Afghan asylum seekers, according to Bloomberg News. This comes only 10 days after Biden said, “[Afghans] got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.” As the Taliban now controls the country, Biden has shifted the blame to his advisors, noting that, “The consensus opinion was that, in fact, [the Taliban takeover] would not occur, if it occurred, until later in the year.” Given the detrimental miscommunication of the Biden Administration, it is likely that Afghan refugees and American citizens alike will remain trapped in Afghanistan without aid.

With the U.S. military expected to be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by August 31st, many Afghans face the probability of being stuck in a Taliban-controlled country with no escape. Crowds swarming the Kabul airport and Taliban-enforced checkpoints have prevented many Afghans from leaving the country. The administration has tried to reduce visa requirements and expedite the process through the ALLIES Act but new challenges continue to arise.

On August 24th, the Taliban announced it will restrict the number of Afghans able to leave the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, a member of the Taliban stated that this policy will only apply to Afghans without documentation in an attempt to reduce the crowded Kabul airport. However, the policy will expand to all people beginning August 31st when the Taliban will no longer accept the presence of foreign troops in the country. This gives the U.S. less than one week to evacuate all remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan partners. Daniel F. Runde from the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that the administration must reevaluate the visa process and allow for SIV processing in third-party countries, something Congress has pushed for since earlier this year. On August 15th, for instance, Albania and Kosovo agreed to house refugees seeking U.S. visas until the process is complete. The housing process is intended to be co-managed by U.S. authorities.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, it is crucial to reflect on the successes and failures of the American military presence. While the U.S. may have expanded women’s rights, increased economic mobility, and promoted democratic values during its time in Afghanistan, many of the accomplishments of the past two decades have dissipated in only a few months. The lack of foresight, planning, and communication within the U.S. government is at fault for the refugees and internally displaced people of Afghanistan.

Looking forward, it is imperative that the repercussions of military force and troops on the ground be cautiously considered before any hasty decision-making. Now, the U.S. and its allies must take responsibility for their actions and do everything necessary to house, protect, and accommodate refugees. In the short-term, this means working with third-party countries to host refugees going through the visa process, expediting the SIV process, and housing as many refugees as possible in the U.S. and allied countries. In the long-term, this means reevaluating the SIV process and implementing legal measures to prevent this humanitarian disaster from happening in the future.

 

Update: As of August 26th, at least two explosions outside the Kabul airport have caused the death of more than a dozen people, including both Afghans and U.S. Marines.

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