Afghan Refugees Get a Lifeline but Remain in Limbo

© REUTERS / MICHAEL MCCOYAfghan refugees walk to a bus taking them to a processing center upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, U.S., August 28, 2021
Afghan refugees walk to a bus taking them to a processing center upon arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, U.S., August 28, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.03.2022
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday that the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) granted to roughly 76,000 Afghan refugees have been living under in the United States has been extended an additional 18 months.
After the tumultuous withdrawal of American and allied forces from Afghanistan last year, Afghan refugees were given TPS because of the inherent danger of returning to their home country.
Before Wednesday's extension, TPS protections were set to expire in early August for some refugees. Any Afghan refugee who is not currently in the US will not qualify for TPS and will have to go through the larger US asylum system.
In a statement posted on the DHS website, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas cited “a collapsing public sector, a worsening economic crisis, drought, food and water insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, internal displacement, human rights abuses and repression by the Taliban, destruction of infrastructure, and increasing criminality” as to why Afghan refugees can not reasonably return to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s lack of infrastructure is in part owed to the United States' seizure of over $7 billion in assets from the Afghanistan central bank. Half of the funds were designated for a humanitarian aid program in Afghanistan and the other half for families of 9/11 victims.
Of the 76,000 Afghan refugees that were part of the evacuation, roughly 40% of them are expected to qualify for a Special Immigration Visa (SIV) for their work helping the US and its allies during the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by NATO forces.
U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and U.S. contractors prepare Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, MRAPs, to be transported off of base in support of the withdrawal mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, August 21, 2020. Picture taken August 21, 2020. U.S. Army/Sgt. Jeffery J. Harris - Sputnik International, 1920, 09.09.2021
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The SIV program, like many asylum programs, is a slow process and has an extensive backlog. The TPS extension will extend refugees more time to traverse the byzantine US asylum system.
The remaining Afghan refugees, those who did not or cannot prove they worked with US forces, will remain in limbo. Most were evacuated under humanitarian parole, which allows them to enter the country, but it does not provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
Refugee and immigration advocacy groups have largely praised the plan, but want more to be done.
In a press release, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service stated: “We welcome this designation as an important affirmation that Afghans already in the United States cannot return safely to their homeland. [...] While TPS for Afghanistan is an important protection tool, it does not address the legal limbo faced by tens of thousands of Afghans evacuated to the U.S. on humanitarian parole.”
Vignarajah also called on Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act that would give permanent residency and a path to citizenship to all Afghan refugees, much like the US has done in the past for refugees from Cuba, Vietnam, and Iraq.
The bipartisan bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives in May of last year and has 44 cosponsors. However, it has sat in committee limbo since.
U.S.  President Joe Biden delivers remarks on evacuation efforts and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 20, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 23.10.2021
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In the meantime, Afghan refugees who don’t qualify for SIV have an uncertain future. They're neither able to seek permanent residency nor leave the country to seek asylum through traditional methods.
It is unclear what will happen to those individuals if the TPS is not extended again after the 18 months is up. According to the letter of the law, they should be deported. Until the Afghan Adjustment Act or similar legislation is passed, Afghan refugees in the United States will have no true place to call home.
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