Reviews | Many Afghans who fled Kabul did not receive adequate support

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The Biden administration set up a sponsorship program to help admit and support tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, but too many Afghan evacuees, including some who helped American troops and personnel, ended up without adequate support in this country or outright rejected.

For many of the roughly 80,000 Afghans who traveled to the United States after the fall of Kabul last year, the challenges they face acclimating to a new country are increasing. Thousands more still in Afghanistan or neighboring countries have been denied entry to the United States or are waiting in limbo. Congress could help but has not.

Most of the Afghans who arrived here were flown in from Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal last summer and then housed in temporary quarters at military bases. They have since been resettled in communities across the country, but often without the financial and logistical support normally given to refugees by the government. It’s because Afghans, including thousands who have helped our troops and risked their lives doing so for years, have not been granted refugee status – and because the Trump administration has gutted the infrastructure of resettlement of refugees.

Across the United States, dozens of private groups staffed by volunteers have shape to help. They provided funds to Afghans, as well as assistance in forming community bonds, navigating the paperwork to seek asylum and accessing government assistance. This assistance has been essential, but it is a poor substitute for systematic government assistance. Aid to some Afghan refugees has dried up, leaving them unable to pay their rent or facing eviction.

In March, the Biden administration offered Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months to Afghan refugees who had already been admitted, a designation that can and often is extended. He did so after announcing the same advantage for the Ukrainians already present. The TPS also comes with work authorization, but it does not provide any pathway to lawful permanent residence or citizenship. Without these gateways, many Afghans are effectively stateless, unable to return to their country and uncertain of their long-term prospects there.

Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of unlucky Afghans who failed to board a flight to the United States last summer. Many remain in Afghanistan, threatened by the Taliban; others are in neighboring countries. About 45,000 have applied for humanitarian parole to come to the United States, overwhelming Washington’s processing capacity. Only a few hundred have been approved; 2,200 have been denied, while the rest remain in limbo.

This begs a question: why can’t the administration set up a program for individuals and groups based in the United States to sponsor Afghan refugees to come here, as it has done for Ukrainians? Or why can’t it streamline admissions processing for Afghans who have helped American personnel, fled their country and want to come here? After all, many are as qualified as the refugees who were admitted en masse last summer.

Congress did not decide to grant a path to citizenship for Afghan refugees, as it did for Cubans after Fidel Castro came to power, Vietnamese after the fall of Saigon, and Iraqis after the wars in Iraq of the last decades. Many Afghan refugees, having worked side by side to help Americans in a dangerous place, might now wonder if they have a future in this country.

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