Saturday, January 29, 2022

Some Afghan refugees are relocating to the US under the ‘P-2’ program

Of the thousands of vulnerable Afghans seeking to immigrate to the United States under a refugee resettlement program announced last summer, only a small percentage have moved overseas to begin processing their applications, according to unpublished State Department data.

There are two primary routes for Afghans to get to the United States. There is a decade-old special immigrant visa program open to military interpreters and others who work on government-funded contracts. The other is a refugee admissions program run by the State Department and other agencies.

In early August, when Taliban attacks threatened to topple the US-backed government in Kabul and increased demand for special immigrant visas, the State Department announced that Afghans who were at risk ineligible for the SIV program would be eligible for refugee status. can get the status. New Priority 2 designation.

Although the United States and its allies evacuated more than 124,000 people from Kabul after the Taliban takeover, thousands of other vulnerable Afghans who were left behind are struggling to find a way to safety.

The Priority 2, or P-2, refugee program was intended to help relocate at-risk Afghans such as journalists and rights activists who were otherwise ineligible for the special immigrant visas available to military interpreters.

To be eligible, a person must have worked in Afghanistan for the US government, a US-based media organization or non-governmental organization, and must have been referred by a US-based employer.

Vulnerable Afghans who do not meet the P-2 criteria may be referred by the US Embassy in Kabul, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or a designated NGO under the State Department’s already existing Priority 1 refugee program.

But regardless of the designation, referrals to the program came with a catch that has hindered the ability of most Afghans to take advantage of it. Applicants must first relocate to a third country where their applications are processed, a process that, according to the State Department, can take 14 to 18 months or longer.

For Afghans without the financial means to leave Afghanistan or live in a third country without appropriate travel documents, the need has proved an insurmountable obstacle. As a result, the majority of applicants applying for the refugee program, many of them journalists, human rights activists and aid workers, are stranded in Afghanistan facing an uncertain future.

FILE – Afghan refugees walk with temporary housing at Liberty Village at Joint Base McGuire-Dix- Lakehurst in Trenton, New Jersey, December 2, 2021.

“It is clearly not conducive to a situation where people are being prevented from leaving,” said a US government official with access to Afghan refugee data, who asked to remain anonymous when discussing the challenges of the program . “If this was a country that was easy to get out of, the P-2 would be fine.”

State Department data shared with the VOA by a spokesperson shows that the department has received approximately 12,000 referrals to the Afghan P-2 refugee resettlement program and approximately 17,000 P-1 referrals.

Out of the total number of referrals, over 4,200 have received “Approved” status, meaning they have submitted all the required documents. But just over 350 – a little over 1% of all P-1 and P-2 applicants together – have been identified in third countries, including Pakistan and Turkey, where their cases have begun to be processed, according to two People familiar with the data.

The government official cautioned that the actual number of people relocated to a third country could be higher, noting that some asylum-seeking Afghans have not yet contacted the State Department. But even though more people have left, tens of thousands are still stranded in Afghanistan.

“Hearing that only one percent of people are able to leave the country and move on to the next step, unfortunately, confirms our worst fears,” said Betsy Fischer, director of strategy at the International Refugee Assistance Project, a New York-based Refugee advocacy organization. York. “I think it shows that there is a lot of work to be done to streamline this program.”

Logical challenges frustrate P-2 applicants

Many Afghans face difficulty going abroad to begin the State Department’s process of their refugee cases. Asked what the State Department is doing to streamline the P-2 program, the spokesperson said, “We continue to demand a safe passage for all who wish to leave Afghanistan, and we are looking forward to working with other countries.” Respect has been very public about advocating for the principle of non-purgation and allowing entry for security-seeking Afghans.

“Individuals in urgent need of protection should follow procedures to register for international security and assist with the country’s government,” the spokesperson said.

FILE - Afghan refugees are seen at an Italian Red Cross refugee camp in Avezzano, Italy, August 31, 2021.

FILE – Afghan refugees are seen at an Italian Red Cross refugee camp in Avezzano, Italy, August 31, 2021.

This is not a relief for P-2 applicants unable to leave Afghanistan. Most lack the passport to travel and the money to stay abroad for extended periods. What’s more, uncertainty about whether a case will be approved prevents many people from leaving the country, said a Kabul-based TV writer and producer who was referred to the program by a US-based non-governmental organization has gone.

“I can try to sell everything I own and move to a third country, but what if, at the end of the process, they reject my case? What do I do then?” The author, who requested anonymity, said in a WhatsApp message to VOA.

Even those who have entered a third country and received confirmation of status from the State Department complain about the exorbitant cost of waiting for an unexpectedly long time.

“Without money, a job and a home to live in, I can’t wait for a process that could take years,” said a veteran Afghan editor living in a guesthouse in Islamabad, Pakistan.

This dilemma has led some frustrated refugee advocates to suggest that the administration should shut down the program if it cannot find a way to help applicants leave the country.

pressure to change

However, others say that closing the program is not a solution. Instead, they are pressuring the Biden administration to make several changes to the program.

One proposal would expand the SIV program to allow employees of NGOs and other Afghans to apply for immigrant visas. Another will instruct the state department to prioritize clearance of SIV applicants as well as P-2 applicants. Some advocates have emphasized financial support for P-2 applicants living in third countries.

None of the proposals have received public support from the Biden administration, which, according to refugee advocates, focuses on evacuating US citizens, permanent residents and holders of special immigrant visas.

“The administration has told us in many different ways that the P-2 program is not their priority,” said Katie LaRock, senior manager of democracy, rights and governance at Interaction, a coalition of US-based international NGOs.

Supporters of the Afghan evacuation say they have not given up fighting.

“While the US military is no longer present in Afghanistan, our mission is not over there,” said Republican Representative Peter Meijer, who last year co-sponsored legislation that would expand the SIV program and prioritize the evacuation of P- from the administration. Will ask to give 2 applicants from Afghanistan.

“We still have interpreters and other Afghan allies putting themselves and their loved ones at risk now stranded in Afghanistan, and the chaotic and heartbreaking return that the world witnessed over the summer shows that they are still How insecure.”

The United Nations this week launched a funding appeal of more than $5 billion for Afghanistan, aimed at paying health workers and others directly, rather than financially, for the Taliban government. Aid groups have warned that half the population faces acute hunger in one of the world’s fastest-worsening humanitarian crises.

VOA’s Cindy Sen and Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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