Stuck in Kabul, Afghanistan: An American resident is running out of options


WASHINGTON — For more than a week, Samiullah Naderi, a legal permanent resident of the United States, waited days and nights with his wife and son outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, hoping to let them in so they could depart on one of dozens of daily flights bound for America.

“It’s 50 feet away,” Naderi, 23, known as Sami, said Sunday night in a brief phone interview, speaking in stagnant English, with gunfire in the background. “Maybe the Taliban will let me in – maybe.”

But on Monday, after being told no more people would be allowed into the airport gate, Mr. Naderi and his family returned to their Kabul apartment with no clear path back to Philadelphia, where he has lived since last year.

“All flights are closed,” he said with an incredible laugh. “I am afraid.”

Mr. Nadery is among at least hundreds of US citizens and possibly thousands of stranded green card holders Afghanistan at the end of a 20-year war This was crowned not by a reliable peace, but by a two-week military airlift that led to the evacuation of more than 123,000 people.

Evacuations continued during the latest US military flight out of Kabul, which departed Monday night, as the Biden administration pledged to help up to 200 Americans who have remained fleeing what they fear will be a brutal life under Taliban rule.

“The bottom line: 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave,” President Biden said on Tuesday. He said the US government had warned Americans 19 times since March to leave Afghanistan.

“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” he said. “We remain committed to getting them out if they want to get out.”

Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said Monday that about 6,000 Americans, the vast majority of whom had Afghan-American citizenship, were evacuated after Aug. 14. The State Department did not provide figures for the number of lawful permanent residents of the United States who either evacuated or – as in Mr. Nader’s case – failed to leave the flight. Immigration and refugee advocacy groups estimated that thousands remained.

Mr. Blinken described the “extraordinary effort to give Americans every opportunity to leave the country,” in which diplomats made 55,000 calls and sent 33,000 emails to US citizens in Afghanistan and, in some cases, transported them to Kabul airport.

“We have no illusion that any of this is going to be easy or fast,” Mr. Blinken said at the State Department in Washington. This will be a very different stage from the evacuation stage that has just ended. It will take time to work through a new set of challenges.”

“But we’ll stay in it,” he said.

many of congressmen The US military has asked to remain in Afghanistan until US citizens, permanent residents, and the estimated tens of thousands of Afghans eligible for special immigrant visas are evacuated. But by the end of this week, lawmakers seemed independent in acknowledging that many would be left behind.

“Our team will continue to work to safely evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies and reunite families and loved ones,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon. He said on Twitter late Sunday night. “I urge the State Department and the rest of our government to continue to use every possible tool to get people to safety or the deadline or not.”

Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, criticized Mr. Biden’s comments on Tuesday as “cruel indifference to Americans he abandoned behind enemy lines.”

“The American people have been promised that our forces will stay until every American is gone,” Mr. Sassi, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

Officials and advocacy groups said messy efforts to locate and contact US citizens in Afghanistan and then expedite their arrival to safety have been stymied by a lack of coordination across the US government, frustrated communication attempts by the State Department, and increasingly frequent warnings that this might happen. The attacks forced the airport gates to close and relocate meeting points.

Aid groups in the United States that helped American citizens and Afghans who worked with the US government described a heartbreaking and staggering process in which people trying to flee were directed, and then redirected, to meeting points through Kabul where they had to board buses or join convoys. Headed to the airport, but was blocked along the way.

Some people said Taliban fighters at checkpoints took their US passports, aid workers said. Others said they were harassed and beaten while on their way to meeting points, and were not prepared to put themselves and their families in harm’s way again. Some said US forces standing guard at the airport gate turned them back.

“Why can’t we take people out?” said Farshta Tayeb, the daughter of a US-born Afghan refugee, which provides emotional counseling and translation services to Afghan immigrants in the US, including those who have worked with the US military.

Ms. Al-Tayeb blamed the Biden administration for the military withdrawal, which she said was “randomly done, done in a sloppy way”.

“There was a time to make a plan and do what needed to be done to get these people out,” she said. “But there doesn’t seem to be a strategy behind it.”

Ross Wilson, who was the top American diplomat in Afghanistan and was on the last military trip to leave, Monday said on Twitter “Allegations that US citizens have been refused or denied access” to Kabul airport “by embassy staff or US forces are false.”

In Washington, officials struggled to keep up.

military officials secretly accused The State Department has moved too slowly to deal with the crush of people who are begging to be evacuated. State Department officials, already facing a backlog of visa applications from Afghans that began during the Trump administration, focused first on finding Americans and verifying their citizenship.

Officials said a small but unspecified number of US citizens indicated they did not want to flee Afghanistan, were unwilling to give up their homes, jobs or education, or refused to leave their relatives, including elderly parents who were not Americans and had no way out. .

Foreign-born spouses of US citizens, and their unmarried children under the age of 21, are entitled to immigrate to the US after obtaining certain approvals, a process that was expedited for some Afghans during the evacuation. Extended family members, such as parents, siblings and other relatives, must go through an immigration process that can take “a very long time,” said Gina Gilbert, director of refugee representation at Human Rights First.

But there are no plans to change visa requirements for extended family members who will have to “travel to the United States under other forms of eligibility,” Ned Price, a department spokesman, said Friday.

The Kabul Airport is not expected to be fully operational for some time Without the US military, though, the Biden administration tends to allies, including Turkey and Qatar, to take over some operations to facilitate small charter flights for people who want to leave, Mr. Blinken said. The State Department is also studying how to protect American and Afghan citizens at high risk of Taliban retaliation who drive into one of several neighboring countries and seek safe passage to the United States from there.

On Tuesday, Naderi said he was not sure what to do, but was looking forward to leaving Afghanistan via its border with Pakistan or Tajikistan. As proof of his American residency, he provided a photo of his green card, which he obtained last year, and said he had been living with his father in Philadelphia in the hope of moving his wife and son to the United States. (The State Department has not commented on his case, citing privacy concerns.)

He returned to Afghanistan on August 10 to collect immigration documents for his wife and son, said his father, Ismail Naderi, who worked for several US military contracting firms in construction and other fields from 2004 to 2015.

Five days later, the Taliban seized power and closed the US embassy in Kabul as diplomats were evacuated to the airport.

Obtaining the right visas for the family in a timely manner was not possible. “My situation is really bad right now,” Samiullah Naderi said on Tuesday.

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