Afghans in the U.S. struggle to evacuate family, friends

Afghans in the U.S. struggle to evacuate family, friends

For two days, Aziz Shinwari has been fielding frantic calls and online messages from relatives in Afghanistan, trying to help get them out of the country.

Shinwari, who worked as an interpreter and guard for the U.S. military for more than a decade before relocating to Houston in 2015, fears his loved ones will be targeted.

“We have left a lot of people behind, and they could die any day. They need to leave the country as soon as possible,” said Shinwari, 36, who has relatives in the capital, Kabul, and Jalalabad to the east. “My family members, my neighbors, my friends, my co-workers keep sending me messages saying, ‘What should we do?’”

It was unclear Monday how many Afghans the U.S. plans to evacuate, who would receive priority or where they would go. The uncertainty was tormenting enclaves such as the Bay Area’s Little Kabul, home to more than 60,000 Afghan immigrants.

The Department of Defense plans to evacuate 22,000 Afghans with special immigrant visas showing they worked for the U.S. government, as well as their relatives and others considered at risk, according to spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell. The Pentagon also plans to transport up to 30,000 additional people — including U.S. Embassy personnel, citizens and visa applicants — out of Kabul, Mitchell said.

But the pace of evacuations has been slow. At a Monday briefing, Pentagon officials said they had relocated about 2,000 Afghans to the U.S., mostly to Ft. Lee, Va. They were assessing temporary sites for 22,000 more at Ft. Bliss, Texas, and Ft. McCoy, Wis.

Several human-rights and migrant-advocacy groups on Monday called on the Biden administration to do more to help those trying to leave Afghanistan.

“The incredibly urgent work of protecting people from reprisals and persecution must include evacuation and resettlement of civilians who need it, including human-rights defenders, women’s rights activists, members of the media, special immigrant visa candidates and other vulnerable people,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Shinwari said the U.S. government needs to expedite special immigrant visas and loosen document requirements, since Afghan government offices that issued them are now closed.

“They need to come up with an alternate solution,” he said.

Shinwari worries about his two older sisters in Jalalabad, one of whom taught at a middle school that has been closed since the Taliban seized control over the weekend.

“I just spoke to one of my sisters this morning. The Taliban told them not to get out of their homes for two days and two nights,” he said. “Everybody is facing a dark future.”