OPINION: Make Afghan refugee resettlement a top funding priority
After the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan communities both here in America and Afghanistan are left wondering what program requirements let Afghans at risk come to America or reach another safe destination.
America began bringing those eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa Program out of Afghanistan, but thousands don't qualify for SIVs even if they worked for or supported the U.S. and its allies. On Aug. 2, two weeks before the chaotic events unfolded, the U.S. Department of State announced, "a Priority 2 designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program access for certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members." There are P-1 and P-3 categories too if someone doesn't qualify for an SIV and P-2.
We need to create frequently asked questions and translate this information into Farsi, Dari, Pashtu and many other ethnic Afghan languages for people who are stranded in Afghanistan.
Their only thought now is to leave for safety. We need immediate education and information as well as increased staffing for faster application processing in Kabul, Afghanistan. It is critical to partner with the Afghan-American community and the nine national refugee resettlement agencies to accomplish this. They know best how to support the community and have structures already in place, but we need to provide resources to smooth transition for newly arrived families.
America must urge other refugee resettlement countries to welcome Afghans waiting for safety. The host country always benefits from refugee contributions. We have seen Afghan-American friends and family fight for America, pay taxes, open businesses, work as frontline staff, contribute to American society and give back their best.
I deeply feel pain for those who are trapped in this situation. As a former refugee, I know the uncertainty and fear of persecution that the people of Afghanistan face. Unfortunately, my family didn't have American and western support on the ground in my birth country of Bhutan in the late '80s, but I hope Afghans at risk get all the support they need to arrive in a safe place.
I have been constantly receiving text messages, emails, phone calls and Facebook messages from those who are stranded and in danger and I have done my best to provide assistance. I have connected with a family that wants to fly safely out of Kabul, Afghanistan, but they fear going to the airport because of the Taliban checkpoints due to their past experience, when they did not follow the chain of command of different Taliban fighter groups. Things are changing so rapidly so anything can happen on their way to the airport.
Another challenge is they have Afghan backgrounds even though the family consists of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Also, there is uncertainty whether they have to pay back the travel cost.
The family I mentioned had their flight canceled on Aug. 15, the day unfolding began. Refugees must pay for one-way travel, but this is a different and unique situation, so the U.S. government should find money to cover the cost.
The Biden administration has full knowledge of the refugee resettlement and Special Immigrant Visa programs. We still have a month left until Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. We must use our unallocated reserve to allow 12,500 refugees, as mentioned on the Feb. 4 presidential determination on refugee admissions. On Oct. 1, we will begin a new era of resettling 125,000 refugees in the United States, the highest annual number in recent history. This definitely helps prioritize Afghan nationals.
When I say this, I am not minimizing priority groups whose flights have been canceled due to the former president's refugee and Muslim ban and later impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We can do this, but we need immediate funding to cover it.
We will see more chaos in the coming months and years because of the different groups and ideologies that could force more Afghans to flee the country.
I have been reading a lot of press releases, and commitment to the support and welcome of Afghan refugees is high, but we must secure enough resources for their arrival.
Please write and call your U.S. elected representatives to ask them to help find housing and basic support for refugees upon their arrival. If not, these Afghans only arrive to face a new American reality, a housing crisis, after 20 years of American occupation.
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