Having passed the one-year mark since the disastrous American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the media has returned to at least paying some small bit of attention to the debacle we left in our wake. While Joe Biden has yet to apologize for the tens of thousands of people who were left behind, some civilian organizations continue to work with all of the translators and other helpers who assisted the United States and other allied forces during the war. Almost all of them have applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program, but the progress has been painfully slow. After more than a year, nearly 75,000 people are still in the queue and have not received confirmation that they will be able to leave the country and come to the United States. An advocacy group called No One Left Behind recently conducted a poll of those applicants and found that the vast majority of them do not feel safe and they face regular threats of death, violence, or imprisonment from the Taliban. (Government Executive)
More than a quarter of translators who helped the United States military in Afghanistan say they or their family members have faced direct threats from the Taliban within the past month, according to polling data shared with Defense One.
More than 74,000 applicants who worked with the U.S. military or government are in the special immigrant visa pipeline nearly a year after the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, the State Department announced last month. Soren Duggan, the assistant director of advocacy for No One Left Behind, said each Afghan who worked with the U.S. military applies with four-and-a-half family members on average. That means the total number of Afghans who have applied to come to America could be upwards of 300,000 people.
Those people are facing a “grim” security situation, Duggan said. No One Left Behind recently polled 6,500 special immigrant visa applicants who are still outside the United States on what dangers they are facing because of their support of the United States.
The Taliban haven’t changed their stripes at all, as should be obvious by now. When a group of women attempted to protest the loss of civil rights on the anniversary of the American withdrawal, Taliban fighters threatened them with gunfire to break up the protest and send them back home. Many women have been detained and some have simply disappeared.
But the Afghan citizens who aided the United States are in particular peril. Despite the Taliban’s empty promises made to international agencies when they retook control, they have been hunting down those helpers and using computer records that we left behind to identify and locate them. Eventually, unless additional action is taken they will all be gone.
It appears that one of the main hurdles to speeding up the Special Immigrant Visa program process is all of the paperwork that the applicants have to file. They need to supply verification of employment, a letter of recommendation, scanned copies of employment badges and proof of Afghan citizenship, among other documents. With the central government in chaos and regional governments controlled by hardline Taliban fighters who are unlikely to want to assist America’s helpers, those requirements represent a significant barrier to possible escape.
Just 16,000 of the 74,000 remaining applicants have submitted all of the required paperwork. But even those 16,000 have run into a brick wall in many cases and are still waiting for their final documents to come through. According to the survey cited above, more than 90% said they are not living safely or only feel safe some of the time. More than 80% said they have received direct threats from Taliban fighters in the past month.
One of the sponsors working with the stranded helpers said that takes more than 500 days on average for anyone to complete the process and leave. He fears that most of them have no chance of surviving that long. Many will starve this winter and the rest will eventually be hunted down and killed.
Unfortunately, we can’t simply throw open the doors and take everyone into the United States without appropriate vetting. The risk of allowing terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda to slip into the country is too great. But it seems as if some sort of compromise could be reached where a third-country destination could be arranged and they could wait out the application process there. Perhaps Turkey or Egypt could take them in for a while. It’s at least worth exploring other options at this point.