The United States has helped evacuate more than 37,000 citizens and allies from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, when Kabul fell to the Taliban. As the rushed evacuations continue—that figure is only a fraction of the people who are seeking to leave the country—both those waiting to leave and those en route to a new country face challenges, say three Northeastern scholars.
The people left in Afghanistan are staring down compounding traumas, says Daniel Aldrich, professor of political science, public policy, and urban affairs. Their country’s takeover by a violent extremist group comes during a still-raging COVID-19 pandemic and after two decades of war.
And the people evacuating the country aren’t out of the woods: They could face a years-long process for securing asylum status in the U.S., if they can even get to the country, says Hemanth Gundavaram, clinical professor and director of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Northeastern.
“We have a crisis in the making,” Gundavaram says.
People leaving Afghanistan may seek asylum at another border, or may remain refugees without seeking asylum, explains Serena Parekh, professor of philosophy who studies ethics and the global refugee crisis.
The problem in Afghanistan in particular is a rapidly deteriorating security situation at its major airport in Kabul that’s hampering flights out of the country—many of the people eager to leave simply can’t get on a plane.
Additionally, some of the people left in the country have been waiting years for approval of a special visa that would allow them to resettle in the U.S. after helping the military in some capacity. These visas, which should have taken nine months to process, have been backlogged for as long as three years, Parekh says.
“In part, what we’re hearing about now is the group of people that have already applied for these visas,” she says. “The Biden administration could’ve sped up the process—added a thousandfold more people on the processing end—so people could have gotten through before the U.S. withdrawal process unfolded in Afghanistan.”