May 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: U.S. to deny entry to some Afghans in Kosovo

A U.S Air Force carrying Afghan refugees at Pristina International Airport last August.
A U.S. Air Force plane at Pristina International Airport in Kosovo on Aug. 29, 2021. Photo: Armend Nimani/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is preparing Monday to notify several Afghans currently waiting at a U.S. Army base in Kosovo that they'll be denied entry to the United States, two administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Such formal determinations may ultimately affect as many as 16 refugees at Camp Bondsteel in eastern Kosovo. It is the first time the Biden administration has rejected Afghans who've been housed there for additional vetting before being granted entry to the U.S.

  • The determinations stem from security concerns, or the identification of possible ties to the Taliban or terrorist organizations.

The State Department is considering two options for the Afghans being denied entry, according to sources with direct knowledge of the plans.

  • One, work with the Taliban to facilitate their return to Afghanistan.
  • Two, persuade other countries to take them in.

What they're saying: A National Security Council spokesman told Axios all Afghans who fled amid the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Kabul last August "must first undergo a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting process."

  • That process begins overseas, and is conducted by intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security; Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC); and additional Intelligence Community partners, the spokesman said.
  • He added: "While the vast majority of Afghan evacuees have been cleared through this process, the small number of individuals who have been denied are examples of the system working exactly as it should.”

Yes, but: "Everyone here is waiting for clearance," Mohammad Arif Sarwari, who worked with the CIA to dislodge the Taliban, and then served as the chief of Afghan intelligence, told Axios by phone from Camp Bondsteel on Sunday.

  • "We thought maybe three months or six months — but not nine months," he said. "The vetting team has interviewed us, maybe five or six times," he said. "We are not free; we can't go outside."
  • Some Afghans have complained of poor health and cramped conditions at the camp, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The big picture: As Kabul was falling last year, more than 100,000 Afghans — including many who worked for the U.S. government and fought the Taliban — fled their home country.

  • About 76,000 were granted entry to the U.S. through Operation Allies Welcome. The State Department is working on giving many of them long-term immigration status.
  • Some "hard cases" who fled — including Afghans with possible ties to terrorist organizations — were sent, along with their family members, to Camp Bondsteel. It now houses about 100.
  • The U.S. arranged with the government of Kosovo to house them for 365 days, so they could be screened. Under that agreement, some of the Afghans who've been denied entry to the U.S. will have to leave Kosovo by September.

Driving the news: The State Department plans to inform the Kosovo government of its final determination on Monday.

It also will inform the Afghans who've been denied entry of their new status.

  • An estimated 16 of Camp Bondsteel's hard cases were slated to be denied entry to the U.S., one source with direct knowledge of the plans told Axios. A second said the number of finalized denials was in the high single digits.
  • Not every Afghan refugee at Bondsteel will be informed of their status on Monday, giving those who don't get immediate word some hope they may yet be cleared for entry into the U.S.

Flashback: In February, the U.S. deported its first Afghan back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

  • That movement came as a result of a criminal record discovered after the refugee arrived in the U.S.
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