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Just like the military, civilian organizations should not leave Afghan allies behind

Children buying toys on Eid morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2014
James Longley

Last week, the first few hundred Afghan citizens landed safely in Fort Lee, Virginia, under “Operation Allies Refuge,” an effort to bring to the United States thousands of Afghan nationals who worked side-by-side with the Department of Defense over the past two decades. To their credit, the U.S. military pressed hard to bring endangered Afghan colleagues to safety, living up to the Marine creed to leave no man (or woman) behind.

The Afghans who worked with the military represent only a fraction of the thousands of men and women now in grave danger from Taliban retribution — retribution for civilian work to make Afghanistan a peaceful member of the international community.

Our Afghan colleagues have worked tirelessly with us to protect Afghanistan’s democracy, bolster civil society, educate girls, improve health and empower women to realize their potential as business owners, doctors, teachers and government leaders. Today, they are in danger of the brutal treatment that was the hallmark of Taliban rule in the 1990s when stonings, imprisonment, rape and other forms of gender-based abuse were commonplace. 

Just like the military, civilian organizations — NGOs, universities and businesses — should leave no one behind. Abandoning the people who have loyally stood with us would be unconscionable and unacceptable.

This is why we recognize as a positive first step Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s announcement to grant Priority 2 (P-2) Refugee Admissions status to Afghans and their families who have worked with U.S. civilian nonprofit organizations like ours. It is a powerful statement of American commitment and resolve.

But this step is by no means a silver bullet. The Biden administration expanded eligibility, but it did not expedite the process meaningfully. The application and intensive vetting procedures can take at least 12 to 14 months, underscoring the urgency to quickly implement an efficient, accessible process for those who seek P-2 status.

We call on the Biden administration and Congress to take two immediate actions:

First, Congress and the White House must complete all required consultations, finalize any required steps to authorize refugee admissions, issue clear instructions and ensure that the Departments of Homeland Security and State are equipped to follow through effectively on this commitment. The only thing worse than abandoning our colleagues would be failing to fulfill this last promise to stand by them.

Second, we must plan now for the safe and, to the extent possible, orderly resettlement of Afghan refugees. Far too often, governments and NGOs alike have been caught flat-footed when conflict takes hold. If the Taliban’s advance continues, we are likely to see hundreds of thousands of women, men and children flee their homes. They will need lifesaving supplies — food, shelter, clean water, medical care — as well as support in applying for refugee status or asylum and securing visas to a safe destination.

By devoting themselves to rebuilding their homeland after decades of war, our Afghan colleagues helped to safeguard U.S. security in a critical theatre in the war on terrorism. They came to our aid when we needed them — now it’s our turn to come to theirs. 

Patrick C. Fine is chief executive officer of FHI 360.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah is president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Tags Afghan refugees Afghanistan Antony Blinken Diplomacy International Krish O’Mara Vignarajah Middle East Patrick C. Fine

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