The perilous situation for Afghan allies left behind demonstrates that the refugee system is inadequate.
With 120,000 individuals evacuated by air, President Joe Biden has hailed the end of the US engagement in Afghanistan as a historic achievement. A vast effort of volunteers and nonprofit groups used social media to help identify, locate, and campaign for Afghans desperate to flee the country, behind the widely seen scenes of turmoil at the Hamid Karzai International Airport. It’s been dubbed a “digital Dunkirk,” a reference to the mass sea evacuation of Allied soldiers during World War II.
Despite this, the president and his administration have faced a barrage of criticism over the way the long-planned pullout was carried out, much of it centered on the convoluted and inconvenient process for Afghan supporters who needed visas to leave the country and travel to the United States.
The US Embassy in Kabul raised the alarm about the Taliban’s advances in mid-July, recommending that the administration take action to speed up the protection of Afghan allies by granting them a “special immigrant visa,” or SIV.
More Afghan allies might have been able to flee possible Taliban retaliation if the visa process had worked better.
“The SIV program is plainly not meant to accommodate what we recently did, in evacuating over 100,000 people,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted at the end of the airlift in a press conference.
And the precarious predicament of Afghans who want to go today but can’t is a reminder that people are dying in conflict zones all over the world – yet are unable to move to safety in other nations.
SIVs allow Afghan and Iraqi military interpreters and translators whose work “put a target on their backs” to come live in the United States.
The US started a separate Afghan SIV program in 2009, with an initial goal of providing 7,500 visas over five years. Family members who are eligible to visit the United States are not included in the quota.
For years, campaigners have expressed alarm over lengthy visa processing times — up to three and a half years at one point. Some advocacy groups have even filed a lawsuit against the federal government in an attempt to break the impasse.
The Trump administration stalled the vetting process even more when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. This was part of a larger policy of allowing fewer refugees to enter the nation.
The Afghan SIV program had a backlog of 17,000 cases, which Biden had to deal with. Washington Newsday Brief News.