Security Concerns Leave Afghan Evacuees Stuck in Balkan Camp

 

By BEN FOX, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — For some Afghans who had been evacuated as their nation fell to the Taliban final summer time, the journey to the United States has stalled, and maybe ended, at a sun-baked cluster of tents and momentary housing on an American base in the Balkans.

While greater than 78,000 Afghans have arrived in the U.S. for resettlement since August, the longer term for individuals who have been flagged for extra safety vetting and diverted to Camp Bondsteel, in the small nation of Kosovo, stays up in the air. The U.S. will not pressure the handfuls there to return to Afghanistan, the place they may face reprisals.

Their frustration is rising. Some Afghans on the base, which has been shrouded in secrecy, took the weird step this week of staging a protest, holding up indicators with messages reminiscent of “we would like justice,” in accordance with photographs despatched to The Associated Press.

“They simply hold repeating the identical issues, that it takes time and we have to be affected person,” one of many Afghans, Muhammad Arif Sarwari, mentioned in a textual content message from the bottom.

 

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Their complaints open a window into a side of the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans that has gotten little consideration as a result of U.S. authorities, and the federal government of Kosovo, have been reluctant to say a lot in regards to the folks despatched to Bondsteel.

The base homes a mixture of adults and kids, as a result of a number of the individuals who have thus far didn’t get a visa to the U.S. are touring with household. Sarwari, a former senior intelligence official with the Afghan authorities, mentioned there are about 45 folks there, representing about 20 or so particular person visa instances, after a flight to the U.S. left with 27 of the refugees on Wednesday.

The Biden administration will not present particulars, however acknowledges that a number of the evacuees didn’t make it via what it calls a “a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting course of” and will not be permitted to enter the U.S.

“While the overwhelming majority of Afghan evacuees have been cleared via this course of, the small variety of people who’ve been denied are examples of the system working precisely because it ought to,” mentioned Sean Savett, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

In all, about 600 Afghans have handed via Bondsteel, in accordance with the federal government of Kosovo, which initially licensed use of the bottom for evacuees for a yr however not too long ago agreed to increase that till August 2023.

Kosovo, which gained independence from Serbia in 2008 with U.S. help, has additionally supplied little details about the Afghans at Bondsteel, citing the privateness of the refugees. Prime Minister Albin Kurti mentioned in an announcement that the federal government is pleased with its function offering momentary shelter to them.

Afghans are housed in a bit of Bondsteel known as Camp Liya, named for an Afghan youngster handed to the U.S. Marines over a fence on the Hamid Karzai International Airport throughout the evacuation, in accordance with a U.S. army publication.

It was the chaotic nature of that evacuation that led to the necessity for an abroad facility in the primary place. As the Afghan authorities collapsed, 1000’s of individuals made it onto army transport planes with minimal screening earlier than they arrived at one in all a number of abroad transit factors.

The folks despatched to Bondsteel had been stopped and diverted for a bunch of causes, together with lacking or flawed paperwork or safety issues that emerged throughout abroad vetting by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, officers have mentioned.

At the identical time, some in Congress have criticized the administration for what they are saying has been insufficient vetting of Afghan refugees.

Sarwari made it to Kuwait from Afghanistan in early September along with his spouse and two of his daughters and says he does not know why he is been held up. He was a distinguished determine in Afghanistan, serving as the previous director of intelligence after the U.S. invasion in 2001. Before that, he was a prime official with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Both positions would make him a goal of the Taliban if he had been to return.

“The vetting staff retains telling us sorry, Washington is simply deciding some political points,” he mentioned.

Sarwari has utilized for a particular immigrant visa, which is issued to individuals who labored for the U.S. authorities or its allies throughout the struggle. He has not acquired a response, in accordance with his lawyer, Julie Sirrs.

“In principle, he’s free to go away nevertheless it’s not clear the place he may go,” Sirrs mentioned. “He clearly can not return to Afghanistan. He’s clearly in hazard if he returns.”

He and others stay a circumscribed existence on Bondsteel. Although technically not detained, they can’t go away the arid, rocky base and have spent months in tents, which had been adorned with handwritten indicators throughout this week’s protest. One mentioned “unfair resolution,” whereas one other mentioned “youngsters are struggling.”

The Biden administration says authorities have decided that some — it will not say what number of — merely can’t be allowed to enter the U.S. It is working to seek out different international locations that do not harbor the identical safety issues and are keen to just accept them for resettlement. No one will probably be forcibly returned to Afghanistan, the NSC spokesperson mentioned.

Associated Press author Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materials is probably not printed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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