How To Address the Legal Status of Afghan Refugees

Michael Posner
By Michael Posner
In the last two weeks of August, the U.S. government coordinated an unprecedented and massive evacuation from Afghanistan of more than 124,000 people, mostly Afghan refugees. This daunting logistical feat relied on the tireless efforts of thousands of U.S. military and civilian personnel. U.S. leaders are rightfully proud of the heroic actions of these Americans, 13 of whom made the ultimate sacrifice when they were murdered by ISIS-K extremists in the final days of the operation. Now, the Biden Administration and Congress need to focus on three urgent tasks: First, the U.S. must deploy every resource available to get as many vulnerable people out of Afghanistan as possible. Simultaneously, we must bring to the U.S. those who already have been evacuated. And lawmakers should devise a customized immigration status for those forced to flee the Taliban in the wake of the abrupt American departure from Afghanistan. All three undertakings pose formidable challenges.

The August airlift was carried out under rushed and often-chaotic circumstances stemming from the dramatic collapse of the Afghan military and government and the violent and mercurial nature of the Taliban, which controlled access to the Kabul airport. When the August 31 deadline expired and the last U.S. forces left the country, tens of thousands of highly vulnerable people remained in Afghanistan. They are now in extreme danger and are desperate to leave. Various diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade the Taliban to allow their departure. At the same time, a range of humanitarian and charitable organizations are pursuing alternative departure options. Time is of the essence because so many people, especially women and girls, are likely to face persecution by the Taliban. Facilitating their departure should be the highest priority. The U.S. government needs to use every means at its disposal to persuade governments with strong diplomatic relations with the Taliban to use their leverage to negotiate safe departure.

Many of the thousands of Afghans who have managed to leave the country now face a different set of challenges. The good news is that about 40,000 of them were either foreign nationals or Afghans who were evacuated by European or other governments or by international organizations that have assumed responsibility for resettling them. Of the more than 65,000 Afghan refugees airlifted out by the U.S., about 23,000 are now being housed in military or other facilities in Europe. Yet another 20,000 were moved to places in the Middle East or other parts of Asia, which have been dubbed “lily pads,” because they are just interim stops for the refugees. More than 24,000 Afghans already have been brought to the U.S., where they are being held in military bases in Virginia. Texas, Wisconsin, and other states.  These makeshift arrangements are far from ideal. The Afghans often wait for hours in long lines to get their meals and face badly overcrowded conditions, even if they are traveling with small children. This situation is understandable, given the size of the evacuation and the rushed nature of the airlift. In a promising development on Tuesday, it was reported that the Biden Administration will seek $6.4 billion from Congress to help cover costs associated with the relocation of Afghan refugees. But the harsh conditions won’t be eased immediately and underscore the need to resolve questions about the Afghans’ legal status expeditiously. 

Read the full Forbes article.
Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.