Chris Lieberman, FISM News
Due to delays in visa processing, thousands of at-risk Afghans are currently stranded at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
According to the U.S. State Department, as of Thursday evening 6,000 people are currently processed at the airport and are awaiting flights out of the country. However, many have complained that the process has taken too long and has put Afghans who had worked for the U.S. at risk from the Taliban. The combination of a backlog in visa applications for Afghans and the State Department’s slow response in processing visa applications since the Taliban takeover, has led many to conclude that the White House was caught unprepared for the evacuation despite Biden’s assertions to the contrary.
“There are tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans literally at the gate,” said Sunil Varghese, the policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project. “This could have been completely avoided if evacuation was part of the military withdrawal. This was avoidable, and we’re at the 11th hour now.”
President Biden announced in April that he planned to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country by September 11 of this year. However, in the months that followed, the State Department faced numerous delays in preparing to process visas for Afghans seeking to flee the country, including a pause on interviewing visa applicants in June due to a Covid-19 outbreak in Afghanistan, and another a pause on processing visas for non-U.S. citizens in recent days. In response to these mounting frustrations, Price announced that the State Department is deploying more consular officers, including doubling the number of officers in Kabul on Friday.
On Monday, Biden responded to questions on why the U.S. had not begun the process of evacuating Afghans sooner, by saying that he was discouraged by the Afghan government and some applicants were hesitant to leave, saying, “Some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country.” However, refugee groups pushed back on these claims, saying that Afghans have been waiting on visas for years.
Visa issues have not been the only cause for concern in the evacuation. The New York Times reports that flights for non-Americans have been leaving the airport with empty seats even as thousands seek to flee the country. There are also numerous Taliban checkpoints throughout the country cutting off access for many to get to the airport despite warnings from the U.S. government not to interfere.
Americans living in Afghanistan have also faced challenges in their attempt to leave the country. As FISM reported, the Pentagon announced Wednesday that they are unable to guarantee the safety of Americans fleeing Afghanistan. Additionally, Politico has reported that U.S. citizens were being asked to pay $2,000 to fly out of the country. A State Department spokesman said, “U.S. law requires that evacuation assistance to private U.S. citizens or third country nationals be provided ‘on a reimbursable basis to the maximum extent practicable.’ The situation is extremely fluid, and we are working to overcome obstacles as they arise.”