Afghans seeking to flee for US could lose emergency priority status

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Afghans left behind by U.S.-led evacuation efforts face the prospect of losing their emergency priority status for resettlement to the United States, the State Department has admitted.

“I think the duration of this is going to be determined by the U.S. Congress, in some degree of consultation with the administration,” a senior State Department official said Monday. “It intersects with overall refugee admission numbers into the United States and the extent to which the exceptional effort in the second half of August will continue on and be sort of the norm rather than the exception.”

That forecast accompanied an acknowledgment that the Taliban are still impeding evacuation efforts in the absence of U.S. forces. Taken together, the updates bring into view the possibility that some of the Afghans who worked for the U.S. government or other Western entities during the two-decade war could find themselves competing with every other would-be refugee for a ticket to the U.S.

“I tend to think that there will be a time when we shift from exceptional treatment of these populations that are coming out of Afghanistan back to a regular and a regularized system for evaluating candidates for a refugee admissions program and potential resettlement in the U.S. or resettlement somewhere else,” the official said. “I can’t tell you today where that transition point will be, whether in time or in association with a specific number.”

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged that U.S. efforts to evacuate those people will continue indefinitely. "We will continue to help Americans, and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment, depart Afghanistan if they choose,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month. “There’s no deadline to this mission.”

State Department officials are still scrambling to assist scores of American citizens and an even larger population of lawful permanent residents stuck in Afghanistan. That effort has been hampered by the Taliban’s behavior and a shortage of flights out of the country.

“The biggest constraint to the departure of our citizens and others from Afghanistan, of course, remains the Taliban's unpredictability regarding who is permitted to depart,” a senior State Department official told reporters. “The second big constraint is the absence of regular commercial air service to enable folks who wish to depart to do so in a predictable manner.”

Those impediments have slowed the departure of scores of Americans and Afghans — “in the vicinity of a hundred,” the official said — who have converged on Kabul in search of a flight to safety. The official demurred when asked to elaborate on U.S. talks with the Taliban about clearing their path out of the country.

“Our highest priority in Afghanistan, of course, remains helping those American citizens who wish to leave the country now to do so, and ensuring safe passage and freedom of movement, whether it’s for our citizens or for Afghans who wish to travel now, is among our highest expectations for the Taliban, as it is for many other countries,” the official said.

"Here at Main State and our embassies across the region, many people continue to work this problem all day, every day, in pretty much every time zone," the official continued. "And we are constantly touching base with American citizens that we think are still in the country who — or who have indicated in some way that they are still in the country. We’re constantly touching base with them to see if they’re ready to leave."

Tens of thousands of people have fled or are trying to escape Afghanistan in the wake of a chaotic U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban’s military victory over the incumbent Afghan government. Blinken’s team assessed at the end of August that “under 200, and likely closer to 100” Americans were left behind. He acknowledged in congressional testimony that a much larger population of lawful permanent residents likewise remained — “the best estimates are that there’s several thousand green card holders in Afghanistan,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee — along with a “majority” of Afghans who worked with the U.S. during the war.

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Still, “at least 85 U.S citizens,” along with 79 lawful permanent residents, have made their way out of the country in the weeks since the end of the tumultuous large-scale evacuation operation at the Kabul airport.

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Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Taliban, War in Afghanistan, Refugees, Antony Blinken

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: Afghans seeking to flee for US could lose emergency priority status

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