In a statement, President Joe Biden called the first group of allies and families to be evacuated as part of Operation Allies Refuge “an important milestone as we continue to fulfill our promise to the thousands of Afghan nationals who served shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops and diplomats over the last 20 years in Afghanistan.”
“This morning, the first flight of Operation Allies Refuge has arrived in the United States, carrying Afghans who are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and their families,” the president said. “These arrivals are just the first of many as we work quickly to relocate SIV-eligible Afghans out of harm’s way—to the United States, to U.S. facilities abroad, or to third countries—so that they can wait in safety while they finish their visa applications.”
”These first Afghans are able to come directly to the United States because they have already completed extensive background checks and security screening by the Intelligence Community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security,” he continued. “They will complete the final steps of their visa applications and required medical checks at Fort Lee, in Virginia, before traveling onward to begin their new lives in the United States.”
In a second statement, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) President Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, one of the fiercest voices advocating for Afghan allies and their families, called the arrivals “the beginning of an historic moment,” and urged the safe evacuation of all allies and families to either the U.S. or a U.S. territory.
The 2,500 being evacuated to Fort Lee represent just a fraction of the thousands of allies and family members who must be brought to safety after aiding our military, and who have already been in danger even before the scheduled withdrawal of our forces. One interpreter, Ramish, told CNN that when Taliban members were unable to find him, they burned his house down. He’d been in hiding after he’d been told they were searching for him. “If he can’t get out, he said, ‘our future will be dark,’” the report said.
“The administration has set an important precedent in where it has moved these first allies, proving the easiest and safest way to relocate others is by bringing them to U.S. soil,” O’Mara Vignarajah said. “Given the weight of our moral responsibility, we need nothing less than a full-scale evacuation of allies to Guam or elsewhere in the U.S. We cannot in good conscience put them at risk in third countries with unreliable human rights records, or where the Taliban may be able to reach them.”
“This flight, and its passengers being processed in Fort Lee, is precedent to bring all these heroes and their dependents to U.S territory while their visa claims are processed,” said Veterans for American Ideals’ Chris Purdy, another leading advocate. “Eighteen-thousand allies and their families are counting on these promises being kept.”
The arrivals come one day after the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation increasing special visas by 8,000. “I am incredibly grateful that the supplemental includes the HOPE Act to temporarily waive the medical examination for our Afghan partners and core components of the ALLIES Act to expedite the visa process,” Honoring Our Promises Working Group member and Colorado Rep. Jason Crow said. “As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, this legislation will allow us to honor our promises and protect those who served alongside us.” The bill now goes to President Biden for his signature.
“We are relieved that Congress has taken decisive action toward fulfilling the United States’ promise to Afghan allies,” said International Refugee Assistance Project policy director Sunil Varghese. “These additional visas and improvements to SIV procedures will go a long way in preventing further unnecessary loss of life. We are proud of advocating for these changes, and we are especially encouraged to see that the spouses and children of murdered SIV applicants will not be left out in the cold.”