Sat, 18 Sep 2021

Afghan Interpreter Evacuation Flight Arrives in US

Voice of America
30 Jul 2021, 18:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - A special flight for some 200 Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Status (SIV) arrived in the United States on Friday as part of an operation to evacuate those who provided help to the U.S. government.

White House officials announced Operation Allies Refuge on July 14, saying it would evacuate Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the U.S. government during the war, along with their families, who now fear retaliation from the Taliban.

Senior Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Russ Travers of the National Security Council told reporters that the flight "represents the fulfillment of the U.S. commitment and honors these Afghans' brave service in helping support our mission."

Flight to safety

U.S. officials said the first flight includes about 200 people with SIV status and their family members. Some 700 more who have completed the SIV process will be evacuated in the next few weeks.

They are headed to Fort Lee, an army base in Virginia, where they will spend about a week undergoing medical checks and finalizing paperwork before being relocated. Those who have family connections will be placed with them, others through the U.S. State Department's Refugee Admissions Program.

According to the State Department, the first group of refugees has undergone fitness testing and has been tested for COVID-19. Should anyone test positive, they will be quarantined prior to traveling.

"We have offered vaccines in Kabul to those who are interested in having them, and we will also be offering those vaccines at Fort Lee," said Ambassador Tracey Jacobson of the State Department Afghanistan coordination task force.

Other destinations

Other Afghans are not approved for travel yet but are being processed in the SIV system. In the next few weeks, officials will start moving those families to what Jacobson termed a "third party location" where they will undergo more scrutiny for visa approval prior to receiving safe haven in the United States.

An Afghan man who spoke with VOA said emails indicate he has been in processing status for four years.

It's estimated that about 2,500 remaining qualified Afghan nationals will eventually be evacuated to the U.S. and the unnamed location.

Expediting the Afghans' evacuation is a priority, Karine Jean-Pierre, principal deputy press secretary, said Thursday during a White House briefing.

"The president set a clear goal, we will begin relocating eligible and interested Afghan SIV applicants and their families before the end of this month," she said.

"This is a whole of government 24/7 worldwide effort, as you all can imagine, and we intend to meet the president's goals."

More than 70,000 Afghans resettled so far

The original SIV authorization was signed into law in 2008 by then-President George W. Bush and was intended to give Iraqi citizens safety in the United States. Since then, the government has settled more than 70,000 Afghans with SIV status in the United States.

The State Department says others at risk of Taliban retribution - including women's rights leaders, activists, journalists, human rights supporters and others - can appeal to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, which can make recommendations to the Refugee Admissions Program.

The SIV resettlement program is expected to continue after U.S. troops complete their withdrawal from the longest war in the country's history. By Sept. 1, the military has said, the remaining American troops in Afghanistan are expected to be focused on guarding the U.S. Embassy and the Kabul airport.

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