EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — There are more questions than answers arising from the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan as refugees try desperately to evacuate Kabul ahead of the deadline set by the Taliban and time is quickly running out.
They say the devil is in the details and lawmakers, non-profit organizations and refugees are fighting for specifics in an urgent effort to save lives.
“It’s very disturbing that we’re to understand that we’re going to house up to 10,000 migrants without so much as a courtesy call or some sort of planning with stakeholders and with our partners throughout the county and the city,” U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Herrell (NM-2) told KTSM 9 News. “Both Las Cruces, Dona Ana County and, obviously, the Congressional delegation.”
Afghan refugees who have a history of working with the U.S. government and its contractors are eligible for the Special Immigration Visa (SVI) program that acts as a pathway for evacuation. The application requires documented work history, a letter of recommendation and proof of Afghan nationality, as well as other steps in the vetting process.
But lawmakers whose districts will be receiving the refugees are still feeling trepidation.
“I’ve asked some pretty pointed questions as it relates to how are these migrants being vetted. Are they being vetted 100 percent and fully before they hit American soil? So far I’ve been told that there is no answer for that,” Herrell said.
The vetting process is taking place concurrently with what a Senior White House official tells KTSM in background is the largest airlift in global history and that each refugee is being vetted at least once or twice.
The U.S. Congress passed bipartisan legislation as part of the supplemental security spending bill that is designed to bolster the SIV program that President Joe Biden signed into law at the end of July. But the program is not being accelerated quickly enough to escape fatal risks for many refugees who remain in Kabul awaiting evacuation.
The Taliban initially set a deadline of Aug. 31 for evacuations but backpedaled. On Tuesday, the Taliban announced that Afghan nationals will not be allowed to leave regardless of SIV application status.
Khan, an Afghan refugee in Kabil who shared his story with KTSM, said he received word today to make his way to the airport but said that it proved too dangerous.
“There are more than 5,000 people that are just waiting and they will not allow any newcomer to go inside,” he said by phone.
The U.S. and other governments across the globe are making coordinated efforts to create a system for Afghan refugees to safely build new lives following the fall of democracy to the Taliban as the refugees themselves cling onto a dwindling sense of hope.
“Those with a foreign passport can live, but not of our nation. That means that those who were selected to be evacuated, Taliban will not allow it,” said Khan. “So I don’t know what we should do and how we would make it.”