The United States has evacuated only about 3 percent of Afghans who worked for the American government and applied for special visas, leaving behind an estimated 78,000, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Afghans stuck in the Taliban-ruled country face increasingly desperate circumstances, the report by the nonprofit Association of Wartime Allies said.
“Their lives have been devastated by being left behind with seemingly no verifiable path to safety,” said the group, which helps Afghans who worked for the U.S. government during America’s 20-year-long war.
The Department of State did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
About a decade ago, the U.S. government set up the special immigrant visa, or SIV, program to help resettle Afghans at risk due to their work for the U.S. military.
At the time of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, there were about 81,000 Afghans who had applied for the visas, the report said.
Although tens of thousands of Afghans were evacuated in the final chaotic days of the U.S. presence, only 3,000 were applicants in the special immigrant visa program, the report said.
A State Department official said the number cited in the report was “inaccurate.” But the official did not provide an alternative estimate of how many Afghans who applied for special immigrant visas were evacuated since August.
“The State Department is working around the clock with our interagency and third country partners to continue to bring out our Afghan allies and their families for eventual resettlement in the U.S.,” the official said.
The Biden administration has yet to release an estimate of how many Afghan special immigrant visa applicants were evacuated from Afghanistan. Instead, it has referred to a larger pool of Afghans who were flown out and who were “eligible” or were “expected” to apply for the visas.
Of about 76,000 Afghans who arrived in the United States in August, nearly half have since obtained or are eligible for a special immigrant visa, the State Department official said.
Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, said the group’s estimate was based on published State Department quarterly reports and public statements from the department last August.
In early August 2021, the State Department reported that there were about 18,000 SIV applicants. Taking into account U.S. government figures that indicate Afghan visa applicants are accompanied by an average of four family members, the Association of Wartime Allies estimated approximately 81,000 Afghans had applied for a special immigrant visa by August 15, the day Kabul fell to the Taliban, Staffieri said.
She said the group “sincerely appreciated” the State Department’s efforts to evacuate Afghans. “Our report is in no way intended to infer that the Department of State is anything other than currently very much dedicated to the resettlement of our Afghan allies,” Staffieri said.
The report commended the U.S. for the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans in August but said “we must never lose focus on those left behind.”
President Joe Biden’s administration has come under fire for how it handled the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, with lawmakers from both parties and refugee advocates saying the White House failed to plan for a large-scale evacuation of Afghans who had risked their lives for the Americans over the course of the war.
According to a recently released military investigation, senior Biden administration officials failed to recognize the gravity of the situation as Taliban forces rapidly advanced from April to July, and were reluctant to prepare an evacuation.
The Biden administration has rejected the criticism, saying the president moved U.S. troops into the region in advance to help with the evacuation, and that military commanders at White House meetings did not raise objections to evacuation planning.
The Association of Wartime Allies report surveyed nearly 4,000 of the special immigrant visa applicants, and found that the Afghans are facing persecution and economic deprivation under the Taliban’s rule. In the six months since the U.S. military departed, nearly 30 percent said they have been imprisoned but were since released and 52 percent have been stopped and questioned.
Eighty-eight percent reported losing their job and 94 percent reported economic hardship, the report said. Over 70 percent of the Afghans said they had gone without food at least once in the last month, and nearly 20 percent said they went without meals 10 times in the previous month. The survey was conducted by phone, the group said.
Although the Taliban control the country’s airports, the U.S. needed to do more to eliminate bureaucratic red tape to help Afghans escape to safety, including funding more charter flights and expediting visas, the report said.
Staffieri said the U.S. was still requiring Afghan applicants to get medical exams and in-person interviews for their visa requests, even though the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is closed.
Other Western governments have managed to bring out their Afghan partners with fewer bureaucratic obstacles, she said.
“Other countries are doing it. Why can’t we?” she said.