News & Resources

IRAP Files Emergency Legal Petitions for Evacuation for Stranded Afghans Who Supported the U.S. in Wartime

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                     

August 18, 2021


Spencer Tilger


(New York, NY) – This morning, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) filed multiple emergency petitions for protection with the U.S. State Department on behalf of all Afghan applicants in the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, demanding the U.S. government fulfill its legal obligation to protect our allies by evacuating them and their families to safety immediately. These emergency petitions come amidst ongoing attention on the U.S. failure to adequately plan for the safety of the thousands of Afghans who supported U.S. interests in Afghanistan over the past two decades. It is the first time the Department of State has been formally petitioned to exercise its statutory duty under the Afghan Allies Protection Act § 602(b)(6), which requires it to protect SIV applicants when they are in “imminent danger.”

There can be no doubt that Afghan allies are in imminent danger. Mr. Azizi, an IRAP client featured in the petitions, worked at the Kabul Airport for over six years until it was surrounded by the Taliban a few days ago. Mr. Azizi knows of at least five interpreters who have been murdered in the last two days by the Taliban: “I do not know when [it] is my turn but they will find me too. I do pray not just for myself but for all my teammates to stay safe and find a chance to refuge from Afghanistan alive and live in a secure place. I do not want to hear any bad news regarding my teammates… who have provided services for years to both the U.S. and Afghan government and I love them all.”

Another IRAP client, “Fatima”, an Afghan women’s rights advocate who is currently hiding from the Taliban because of her work on U.S. funded projects, has been waiting for a Special Immigrant Visa since 2018. She shared her story in a recording at the press briefing earlier today: “Right now this situation is fatal and dangerous … we all are worried and afraid … the only hope in this moment that I have is [the] U.S. government. Please, U.S. government, protect and shelter us. Please stop promising. Please start taking action as immediately as you can. After losing our lives, your regrets will not change anything. Your regrets will not give us a second chance to live our lives.”

IRAP’s petitions today are a rallying cry for action. The U.S. wartime allies, who put their lives on the line for the United States, are in need of protection. IRAP’s petitions speak to our moral imperative to act quickly and include the stories of other SIV applicants seeking evacuation, including a couple expecting their first child in a few months, a woman once banned from pursuing an education by the Taliban who has since become a leader in educating young Afghan women, and an interpreter who had face to face contact with the Taliban while working on behalf of the United States.

The Biden Administration has done far too little for these SIV applicants despite knowing, since the day it called for the U.S. troop withdrawal, that thousands of Afghans were still languishing in the broken U.S. visa system. Now that the Afghan government has collapsed and the Taliban has taken over, there is no time left. IRAP calls on the United States to fulfill its legal and moral obligation to do everything in its power to bring as many people to safety before it is too late. It is IRAP’s hope that the government will not only respond to today’s petitions, but take immediate action to vastly expand evacuation efforts for all Afghan allies and open our doors to Afghan refugees.

The following are quotes from the participants of today’s press briefing:

“The United States must act now […] if our promises are to have any meaning,” said Becca Heller, Executive Director, IRAP. “The unwillingness of the U.S. government to protect our allies, after they sacrificed their safety, and in many cases their lives, is a historically unprecedented failure that only a sustained attempt to hold the airport and meaningfully evacuate people can begin to remedy.”

“As an American soldier who served in Afghanistan & Iraq and owes his life to translators, it has been heartbreaking to see the Biden Administration place such little value on the lives of those who I consider to be tantamount to American troops. The United States has a moral and legal duty to help those who have risked their lives alongside U.S. forces and vulnerable populations,” said Mike Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “For months, we’ve been advocating for a detailed plan to help our allies and vulnerable populations in Afghanistan, demanding that the Administration act. HRF and IRAP stand ready to help Afghans evacuate and resettle, but only President Biden can decide whether he’ll make that happen and whether he’ll make that work. The petition filed today will hopefully push the State Department to fulfill its duties and expedite the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees.”

“I was born in Kabul back in 1965, and it was a very different time,” said Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-American novelist and humanitarian. “Afghanistan was a very different country then, and Kabul was an open and thriving city. I had been watching from afar for more than 20 years the lives of Afghans in refugee camps and advocating for them as I traveled to many countries, including Chad and Uganda. The events of the past few days have been deeply painful and personal for me. I have family and friends in Afghanistan who are terrified and I can understand why. Friends in Kabul aligned themselves with American initiatives even knowing it would turn them into a target for the Taliban. They believed in peaceful, positive changes in Afghanistan, and now those people have a target on their back. America has a moral obligation to evacuate those people as quickly as possible.”

A recording of the call can be found here.

To access a copy of the petitions for protection, visit here

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) develops and enforces a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons. Mobilizing direct legal aid, litigation, and systemic advocacy, IRAP serves the world’s most persecuted individuals and empowers the next generation of human rights leaders.