U.S. officials and refugee agencies are scrambling to help Afghan allies who supported the American mission to leave the country as Taliban checkpoints spread across the country and the capital, Kabul.
Reports out of the Afghan capital indicate that a U.S. military-led evacuation of embassy and support personnel out of Afghanistan is underway again even as the Taliban cements its control over the country.
Jims Porter is a spokesperson for RefugeeOne, Illinois’ largest refugee resettlement agency which has helped resettle about 500 individuals from Afghanistan since 2014.
He says the majority of Afghans coming to the U.S. arrive on special immigrant visas that are intended to help resettle locals who have helped American missions abroad.
“Most of them are folks who have helped the U.S. overseas either as interpreters or clerks or translators, even drivers and security guards,” said Porter.
He says the recent rapid Taliban takeover of the country has many local families with Afghan relatives worried.
“A lot of them still have family in Afghanistan and so they are deeply concerned about their families’ ability to make it to safety,” said Porter. “These are individuals who have not only risked their lives but their family’s lives to save American lives.”
One person RefugeeOne is currently trying to help is a man who arrived on a special immigrant visa a little over five years ago. Porter says the man’s wife and children were visiting relatives in Afghanistan when the Taliban swept to power.
“Two of his children are U.S. citizens and they were actually in Afghanistan with his wife at the funeral of one of their family members who had been targeted by the Taliban because of this family’s involvement with the U.S.,” said Porter. “We’re waiting and hoping right now, but there’s no guarantees of what will happen with this family.”
Now that U. S. Marines have control of the airport in Kabul, Porter says the hope is orderly departures will be able to resume but he is unsure of how many will be able to make the journey.
“There’s not a great way to estimate how many (refugees) will be coming because so much of the situation has just been in a constant state of flux. We had heard that there would be about 18,000 special immigrant visa holders coming to the U.S,” said Porter. “Our hope is that at least those 18,000 will be able to get to the U.S. … It’s hard to predict what that number will look like but we have the ability and the capacity to welcome many.”
He says that in the limited interactions he’s had with people in Afghanistan over the past few days, most of them are simply focused on the immediate safety of their families rather than considering what life would be like under hardline Taliban rule.
“I think right now, to tell the truth, they’re worried just about the actual physical safety of their family more than they can even consider what the country is going to look like under Taliban control,” said Porter. “It’s a matter of life or death, right? So they’re kind of in this state where they’re just trying to make these decisions on an hourly basis to protect themselves and their families.”