Dec 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Afghan aid groups meet with NatSec staff

Afghans are seen lining up to board a German transport plane to flee Kabul in late August.
A queue outside a German transport plane following the fall of Kabul in mid-August. Photo: Xinhua via Getty Images

A coalition of organizations still working to evacuate people from Afghanistan met Tuesday with top U.S. national security officials to discuss next steps, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Tens of thousands of Afghans are grappling with a deepening economic and humanitarian crisis following the U.S. military and diplomatic pullout on Aug. 31, with reports of targeted assassinations as the Taliban settle scores.

Driving the news: The AfghanEvac Coalition, which represents 120 organizations, met with senior advisers from the National Security Council.

  • The groups are eager for additional resources and continued collaboration with the State Department, Department of Defense and NSC to help people get out of Afghanistan.

What we're watching: The umbrella group was angling for a response to a letter members wrote to the administration, as well as House and Senate leaders.

  • The members didn't receive any concrete commitments but were told their letter caused the Biden administration to "change tack, and has made an impact on their thinking," one attendee told Axios.
  • The coalition members underscored their request that President Biden appoint an "evacuation czar" — with tasking authority, at the interagency level — to lead efforts to bring thousands of at-risk Afghans to safety.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) made the same request to the president two weeks ago.

What they're saying: "This should be led by someone with military and development/diplomacy experience. Someone young, whose career depends on success and is not already retired," said Shawn VanDiver, president of the coalition. "We're confident they'll get to a good place on those things."

  • Attendees also discussed the prospect of increasing the capacity for evacuation and resettlement, including adding third-country "lily pads" for "P1/P2" referred individuals to get out of Afghanistan and to a safe place to complete their processing.
  • The P1/P2 designations were meant to grant certain Afghans and their eligible family members — who do not qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa used by many interpreters and others who assisted U.S. troops — preferred access to the U.S. refugee program.
  • To qualify for P2 status, however, Afghans must get themselves out of Afghanistan — a near-impossible feat given the circumstances.
  • "There's also really no functionally scaled-up programs to interview and adjudicate refugee cases in the countries nearby where people can flee to," said Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project.

Between the lines: The private groups have played a critical role in evacuating tens of thousands of Afghans following the U.S. withdrawal.

Since the end of August, they've been working to get people on the scarce flights out of the country and coordinate refugee resettlement in communities across the U.S.

  • The Biden administration has already evacuated and brought to the U.S. 75,000 Afghans — of which a ratio of more than 2 in 5 are eligible for SIVs because of their or a family member's aid to the U.S. government.
  • But the Department of Homeland Security has begun issuing denials to Afghans seeking to immigrate to the United States through the humanitarian parole process.
  • A system that typically processes 2,000 applications annually has been flooded with more than 30,000.

But, but, but: "We do provide a range of services, even if we don't have a presence there," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday during her daily briefing.

  • Psaki added the administration has “directly assisted” 479 Americans and 450 green-card holders — as well as their immediate families — in leaving Afghanistan since the troop departure.
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