By Beth Bailey
The Biden administration’s renewed efforts to assist left-behind Afghan allies were meant to take effect on Saturday . However, Afghans with Priority-1 and Priority-2 referrals to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, or USRAP, are still left in the dark about stalled referral processing.
Just days before alleged changes were set to commence, the State Department offered no concrete responses to my questions about when processing will begin or how long it should last. Applicants who shared their stories with me on condition of anonymity told of severe hardships resulting from the administration’s lack of action.
Because the requisite 12 to 18 months of USRAP processing must occur outside of Afghanistan, nine applicants I spoke with have moved to Pakistan. Two of these applicants told me they moved because they were referred to the USRAP, but they have not received case numbers. Though they have no confirmation to this effect, they are likely among the 21,000 of 46,000 applicants a State Department spokesman told me were not accepted into the system. Whether they possess case numbers or not, Afghans who fled to Pakistan are uniformly struggling to afford an elevated cost of living in a country where refugees are not legally allowed to work. Many applicants say they cannot obtain medical care, and their children cannot attend school.
For applicants with case numbers, USRAP processing can only commence after applicants are assigned to a Resettlement Support Center. Though the Pakistan-based applicants who spoke with me have been in the country for at least six months, none have been assigned to a Resettlement Support Center. Numerous applicants have already overstayed their visas and face heavy fines from the Pakistani government. Some applicants sought protection by requesting refugee status through the U.N. high commissioner for refugees. These applicants tell me the organization has been unresponsive to their pleas for assistance. The UNHCR has not responded to my questions about these allegations.
People's harrowing stories demonstrate the effects U.S. inaction have rendered. Priority-2 applicant Mohibullah, who moved to Pakistan in February 2022, said he has made "hundreds of calls, complaints, and e-mails" to the UNHCR, begging for support. Because his visa expired, Mohibullah said he cannot rent an apartment for his family of eight.
Priority-1 applicant Arash told me he has been living in a run-down Pakistani refugee camp since April 2022. He said his children have become ill from the conditions. To survive, Arash works illegally.
Faiz told me his mother, a Priority-2 applicant, was a well-known television presenter in Afghanistan. For six months, she has not left her home in Pakistan for fear of being identified and attacked. With the family’s visas expired, Faiz said his father, a Priority-2 applicant, works illegally for 12 hours a day to afford rent and two daily meals for his family.
Applicant Halima arrived in Pakistan around eight months ago when she was seven months pregnant. As a refugee, she was forced to give birth at a crowded hospital run by distracted doctors. Surviving in Pakistan with no income has been a huge challenge.
Though the Pakistani government announced amnesty for all foreigners on overstayed visas who depart by Dec. 31, 2022, Priority-1 applicant Zarmina told me the Pakistani police recently arrived at her apartment to warn of her family’s imminent deportation. Zarmina told me, "We are living between hell and death."
Priority-2 applicant Ismail leased his home and apartment in Afghanistan for $18,000 to support his family while they awaited processing in Pakistan. Since their arrival in April 2022, half this money has been spent. With nothing but rumors about the resumption of USRAP processing, he says many Afghan applicants "feel that the U.S. government has forgotten us."
While most applicants who shared their stories with me have moved to Pakistan, several remain in Afghanistan. Priority-2 applicant and special immigrant visa applicant Qudratullah has not yet received his Pakistan visa. He must relocate often in Afghanistan to avoid Taliban capture.
Allies awaiting USRAP processing face uncertainty about the future, economic struggles, and security concerns. Many have waited a year to get information from the U.S. government about their case approval or about a timeline for the commencement of their processing. They deserve much better. They deserve President Joe Biden 's action.
Source: Washington Examiner