A U.S. passport, a visa and even a confirmed seat on a flight out of Kabul aren’t enough to save Afghan lives now that the Taliban has a chokehold on the country.
The danger the Afghan people face is real: Translators and interpreters who worked with our troops for two decades — as well as journalists, democracy and women’s rights advocates and others — are at risk of summary execution because they strived for better for themselves, their families and their communities. Women and girls live in fear of being assaulted, beaten or killed for not wearing a burqa or for walking without a male escort in public. Unmarried women and girls as young as 15 are also being forced into marriage and sexually abused.
We are aware that the key airport in Kabul has been secured, but that’s not enough to guarantee the safety of those who worked tirelessly for years to achieve the dream of freedom in Afghanistan. The airport may be under U.S. control, but getting there is perilous, and many have missed confirmed flights because they couldn’t safely travel to or enter the airport. And there are still too many bureaucratic hurdles preventing at-risk Afghans from reaching safe havens in the United States and elsewhere.
The Biden administration and Congress must take immediate and swift action to meaningfully safeguard not only our fellow U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan but also our allies, partners and the many other leaders and activists at risk. American citizens, businesses and nonprofits already stand ready to welcome Afghans and help them adjust to new lives in the United States. International organizations and U.S.-allied countries around the world are also prepared to do the same.
The U.S. government should work with the United Nations and our allies to establish — and secure — a safe passage to the Kabul airport so that those at greatest risk can leave the country. It’s also imperative to set up other humanitarian corridors leading to havens in countries neighboring Afghanistan.
The Taliban surround the airport and control all roads leading to it. They hold the provincial airports as well and all land routes out of Afghanistan. So, most Afghans are effectively trapped without a path to escape.
The Biden administration has promised to evacuate Afghan nationals who worked with U.S. forces and expedite their visa paperwork and has also sent additional planes to Kabul to boost the number of people it can airlift out. But those pledges don’t go far enough.
In addition to establishing a route to freedom, the administration has the authority to cut the usual red tape that slows immigration processing and make it easier for Afghan evacuees to enter the United States.
Monthslong waits plague our Special Immigrant Visa program for Afghans who worked with the U.S. military or government agencies. But a humanitarian crisis on this scale is no time for the usual bureaucracy of government. We know what the Taliban is capable of — we have seen it before and increasingly in recent months demonstrated in kidnappings, targeted assassinations and brutality perpetrated against journalists, advocates, students and so many others. We have an opportunity to save lives.
The administration should immediately establish a humanitarian parole program that would allow vulnerable Afghans to be processed after they’ve already been evacuated to the United States, rather than making them wait in their home country. This is especially true for at-risk Afghans who don’t qualify for Special Immigrant Visas, including many women. Congress must also increase the allocation for Special Immigrant Visas.
Once here, the Afghans granted refugee status will have access to a formal, supported resettlement process that helps establish them in their new lives by organizing things like living space, limited financial support and medical care. Special Immigrant Visa recipients receive similar temporary assistance, and many veterans and veteran-founded nonprofits are also already stepping in to help them integrate into American life.
But those admitted as humanitarian asylees will mostly be left on their own to build new lives in the United States. So, there will be a role for ordinary Americans within our communities to play in the days ahead in extending helping hands to asylees until they are able to support themselves.
What we do in the days ahead can save the lives of Afghans who were there for us when we needed them — and it will also reinforce the United States’ status as the world’s champion of freedom and democracy.
Natalie Gonnella-Platts serves as the director of the Women’s Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.
Laura Collins serves as director of the Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute.