(Washington Insider Magazine) – On Friday, the first Afghan nationals — a group of more than 200 — who served alongside American troops in the 20-year, post-9/11 war in the region arrived in the United States as the first round of Operation Allies Refuge.
It’s a good first step for the people to whom America owes so much, but President Joe Biden can’t let up on the rush to aid these people: Thousands of other Afghans who risked their lives are still in great danger as American troops pull out and the Taliban gains control of more areas.
“I don’t know why it takes so long, we are already in the United States’ database,” one former interpreter, Zia Ghafoori, told the BBC. “I don’t know who could explain to the State Department what these guys have done for both countries.”
Roughly 70,000 Afghan interpreters and their families have moved to the United States under a special visa program since 2008, but 20,000 more are still in Afghanistan waiting.
On Monday, the State Department said it was expanding its refugee program, by creating a “Priority 2” designation for those seeking asylum in America.
Afghans who work or worked for a US government-funded program in Afghanistan or who are current or former employees of US-based media organizations or non-governmental organizations are now eligible.
And those who worked as contractors or translators who didn’t meet the minimum time requirement for a special immigrant visa can also now apply.
But the process could take years — years these Afghans don’t have. Already some 300 interpreters have died while waiting.
“These people stood up and fought shoulder [to] shoulder to support both countries . . . and we’re closing our eyes and leaving them there, leaving them to die,” Ghafoori warned.
President Biden needs to act with extreme urgency to get these people to safety. We owe them that much.