Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging countries with troops departing Afghanistan to accelerate programs to resettle the Afghan staff who served with them during two decades of war.
The United States, Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries should “urgently accelerate visa processing and relocation efforts” ahead of the planned withdrawal of their troops by September 11, amid fears that the Taliban will target Afghan interpreters, translators, embassy staff, and other assistants to foreign forces, the New York-based human rights group said in a statement on June 8.
“Afghans who worked with foreign troops or embassies face huge risks of retaliation from the Taliban,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director. “Departing countries should commit to assisting Afghans who reasonably face danger because of their work with foreign forces.”
The Taliban said in a June 7 statement that Afghans who worked with foreign forces in the past have nothing to fear once international troops leave if they "show remorse for their past actions."
They also “must not engage in such activities in the future that amount to treason against Islam and the country," the militant group added.
But HRW warned that the insurgents “have long targeted civilians, particularly those they accuse of working for the Afghan government or foreigners.”
On May 26, General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington was “very, very rapidly” developing plans to evacuate interpreters and others who worked for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and could be at risk for retribution by the Taliban.
But the U.S. administration has not yet authorized any expedited plans to relocate about 18,000 Afghan applicants awaiting a decision on their Special Immigrant Visa applications, according to HRW.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that there are about 18,000 applicants currently “in the pipeline.” Half of them have expressed interest but haven’t filled out the necessary forms or made the applications, while the other 9,000 are actively in the process, he said.
The State Department is requesting additional special immigrant visas “to make sure we can accommodate all 18,000 in the pipeline.”
Speaking before a Senate committee on June 8, Blinken said additional employees had been brought on board at the State Department in Washington to help process the applications.
Some senators sought assurances from Blinken that he would place a high priority on protecting people who had assisted the United States, as well as their families.
Britain has announced it would also expedite relocating Afghan staff who worked for the British government in Afghanistan and their families, but HRW cited advocacy groups as raising concerns that the program is proceeding too slowly.
“The countries now withdrawing from Afghanistan have been far too slow in developing evacuation, relocation, and resettlement plans for their former Afghan employees,” Gossman said.
“They should recognize that normal pathways will be too slow and that expedited timetables are needed for Afghans and their families who could be hunted down because of their work for coalition forces.”