Afghan Visa Applicants Arrive in U.S. After Years of Waiting

Afghan Visa Applicants Arrive in U.S. After Years of Waiting
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Afghan Visa Applicants Arrive in U.S. After Years of Waiting

Afghan Visa Applicants Arrive in U.S. After Years of Waiting

WASHINGTON – The first group of Afghans promised by the Biden administration to help the United States during the 20-year war in Afghanistan landed on American soil early Friday, starting a new chapter in life after years of waiting.

About 250 interpreters, drivers and other Afghan people who worked with the US military, along with their families, arrived at Dulles International Airport near Washington, after traveling more than 30 hours from Kabul, the Afghan capital, officials said.

From Dulles, they were transported by bus to Fort Lee, Va., South of Richmond, where they will stay at a base hotel for about a week to complete their treatment before being permanently relocated to the United States, have officials said.

The late arrival marked the vanguard of an initial group of around 2,500 Afghans evacuated under threat of Taliban retaliation in an effort the White House calls Operation Allies Refuge. Groups of Afghans will arrive by plane about every three days and be transported to Fort Lee, a US official briefed on the arrangements said.

At the sprawling army base about 130 miles south of Washington, Afghans will stay in dedicated hotel floors, where private security rather than military police will be in place to keep them safe, officials said. .

An additional 4,000 Afghans who have worked with US forces but whose applications require additional approvals and their families will travel to other countries in the coming weeks to complete the visa process before coming to the United States, officials said. responsible.

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The United States is negotiating with Qatar and Kuwait to house thousands of Afghans at military bases in those countries for several months while they complete their visa applications and wait for permission to come to the United States. Diplomats are discussing similar arrangements with Kazakhstan and Kosovo, an official said.

Many of the newly arrived interpreters have long been targets of the Taliban for their cooperation with US troops during the war. Their passage was promised under two special visa programs designed by Congress, but documentation and security requirements plagued many applicants.

About 18,000 Afghans have been caught in bureaucratic limbo after applying for special immigrant visas, which are available to those at risk because of their work for the US government. The applicants have 53,000 family members, US officials said.

Many more are still trapped as Taliban fighters tighten their grip on rural areas. The administration has been opaque about who exactly will receive passage, and many fear they will never be found.

On Thursday, Congress agreed to increase the number of special immigrant visas available to Afghans to 19,000 from 11,000 and expand the universe of eligible people by removing certain application requirements. The measure, which is part of a $ 2.1 billion emergency spending bill, also includes hundreds of millions of dollars for government programs that help and resettle refugees and migrants.

Mr. Biden and other senior administration officials say they are determined to help Afghans who braved dangers and hardships to help the United States during its longest war. “It is one of our moral obligations to help those who have helped us,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said on Saturday.

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Military veterans, some members of Congress and refugee groups have lobbied to speed up the evacuations. But concerns that a processing error could lead to a security incident have helped control that pressure, said several people who have spoken to administration officials in recent weeks.

“The reality is you can’t bring 20,000 interpreters directly to the United States,” said Mary Kaszynski, director of government relations for VoteVets, a veterans organization that has focused on the issue for years, because of many members remain close to the performers with whom they have worked. Afghanistan. “It wouldn’t be safe, it wouldn’t be good for American interests and that’s why they had to implement a phased approach.”

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