US denies hundreds of Afghan refugees humanitarian entry

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Hundreds of Afghans seeking temporary entry into the country for humanitarian reasons in recent weeks have received denial letters from the US federal immigration, much to the dismay of Afghans and their supporters.

Immigrant advocates criticised the move, saying the Biden administration has failed to honour its promise to help Afghans who were left behind after the US military withdrew from the country in August and the Taliban took control.

“It was a huge disappointment,” said Caitlin Rowe, a Texas attorney who said that she had recently received five denials, including one for an Afghan police officer who helped train US troops and was beaten by the Taliban. “These are vulnerable people who genuinely thought there was hope, and I don’t think there was.”

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has received more than 35,000 applications for humanitarian parole since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, of which 470 were denied and 140 were conditionally approved, Victoria Palmer, an agency spokesperson, said this week.

The little-known program, which doesn’t provide a path to lawful permanent residence in the country, typically receives fewer than 2,000 requests annually from all nationalities, of which USCIS approves an average of about 500, she said.

Palmer also stressed that humanitarian parole is generally reserved for extreme emergencies and not intended to replace the refugee admissions process, “which is the typical pathway for individuals outside of the United States who have fled their country of origin and are seeking protection”.

The US government, meanwhile, continues to help vulnerable Afghans, evacuating more than 900 American citizens and residents and another 2,200 Afghans since the military withdrawal. The State Department said that it expects to help resettle as many as 95,000 people from Afghanistan this fiscal year, a process that includes rigorous background checks and vaccinations.

Many of them, however, had been whisked out of Afghanistan before the US left. Now, USCIS is tasked with this new wave of humanitarian parole applications and has ramped up staffing to consider them.

The agency said in a statement that requests are reviewed on an individual basis, with consideration given to immediate relatives of Americans and Afghans airlifted out.

And while USCIS stressed that parole should not replace refugee processing, immigrant advocates argue that isn’t a viable option for Afghans stuck in their country due to a disability or hiding from the Taliban. Even those able to get out of Afghanistan, they say, may be forced to wait years in refugee camps, which isn’t something many can afford to do. (Source: CNA)

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