Although the pace of evacuation has increased in recent days it is still chaotic as people try to flee. Afghans trying reach Kabul airport are in danger. There is far more people who want to flee than can be accommodated. The many difficulties of resettlement in the U.S. and elsewhere await those who make it out. Time is running out. President Joe Biden gave Aug. 31 as the deadline for the completion of the U.S.-led evacuation.
Here's an overview of the current situation:
HOW DO WE GET HERE?
In February 2020, President Donald Trump made a peace agreement with the Taliban as part of his efforts to end the "endless wars” in the Middle East. He accepted a May 1 deadline for all troops to leave the country. Biden, who said he didn't want to risk American lives in a civil conflict between Afghans, continued with the withdrawal plan, but extended it to September. As the U.S. pulled air support from Afghanistan's military, the Taliban quickly took control of the majority of the country. Fearing retribution from the Taliban and harsh rule, Afghans rushed to the airport to escape the country.
Who IS GETTING FLOWN OUT THE COUNTRY
The 70,000 evacuees includes more than 4,000 American citizens, their families, and Afghans who have received a limited number special immigrant visas. These visas are for those who have worked as interpreters for the U.S., NATO, or in other capacities. The U.S. is also moving to evacuate Afghans and their families who applied for visas but have not received them. This includes people who are in particular danger from the Taliban. This includes journalists, human rights activists, and members of civil society.
WHERE ARE THEY GOING?!
Americans and those with legal U.S. residency can travel to the U.S., provided they have made a stopover in Qatar or another Gulf country. According to the White House, Afghans who have applied but not yet received the special visa or are seeking refuge in the U.S. must first travel to a "transit hub", usually located in Europe or Asia, for security vetting by U.S intelligence and law enforcement officials.
After being screened, they will be flown to the United States and placed at military bases in Virginia and New Jersey, Texas, Wisconsin until their applications are complete and they can be resettled. According to the White House, everyone will be tested for COVID-19 on arrival at the U.S.
A minimum of 13 countries, including Uganda and Rwanda, Costa Rica, Albania, have also agreed to temporarily host Afghan refugees until they are able to be resettled.
"The most important issue right now is evacuation. Then you can arrange resettlement to America," stated Bill Frelick, Director of Human Rights Watch's refugee and migrants rights division.
HAS ANYTHING LIKE THIS HAPPENED PRIOR?
This airlift is unprecedented in its scale and speed, yet the U.S. has a long history of welcoming refugees from other conflicts. With the fall of Saigon, 1975 at the close of the Vietnam War, the U.S. flew approximately 7,000 people and eventually took in over 100,000 refugees from Southeast Asia. After Saddam Hussein's retake of control in the region, approximately 5,000 Kurds and other Iraqi minority residents were evacuated by the U.S. in 1996.
Around 20,000 Yugoslavian ethnic cleansing victims against Albanians in Kosovo province were brought to America in 1999 as refugees. They were temporarily housed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, for processing. Since 1980, the U.S. has accepted more than 3.1 Million refugees.
HOW DO AFGHANS GET SETTLED INTO THEIR NEW LIVES IN THE U.S.?
Nine nonprofit resettlement agencies, including the International Rescue Committee and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, oversee a network of affiliates that work to help refugees. Once they are placed in their new cities, they typically get food and housing assistance for the first 90 days but are expected to become self-sufficient. They are met at the airport and transferred to their new residence, usually an apartment.
Nonprofit groups, which use a mixture of government grants as well as private donations, help people find work and adjust to life. People are afraid and anxious and feel all those emotions. They are also, I believe, excited. "People come in just to feel safe again," stated Mark Hagar, the Dallas-area director of Refugee Services of Texas. The government is expected to reimburse refugees for their flights to the U.S.
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO HELP?
Not only do they need donations but also volunteers to help families meet at the airport and set up their apartments.
For instance, the International Rescue Committee says it can also use donations of furniture, groceries, and items for babies in addition to its financial contributions.
Hagar stated that the agency was encouraged by the influx of volunteers who responded to the events in Afghanistan. A volunteer training session that normally would have involved 50 people was attended by 300.
WOULD THIS PROCESS NOT HAVE BEEN STARTED EARLIER
Congressmen and others have complained for years about the long waits and bureaucratic hurdles that were required for visa applications to be processed by former interpreters and other workers for the U.S. Trump's administration reduced the number of refugees who can enter the U.S. and the process came to a halt by COVID-19.
According to Jake Sullivan (Biden's national security advisor), the U.S. resisted a mass evacuation this summer as the U.S. pulled out. This was because the Afghan government feared that it would cause panic which would make it harder to stop the Taliban. He said that even starting earlier wouldn't have prevented the chaos at the airport.
"This operation is complicated. It is very dangerous. It presents many challenges, both logistical and human. He said this week that the operation had produced "searing images of pain, desperation" for reporters. These images are essential for any operation such as this or to evacuate a city that has been ravaged by civil war.