With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan sparking massive unrest, faith leaders are concerned about the United States' plan to help refugees escape the Taliban.
President Joe Biden has been pushing to evacuate American forces from Afghanistan for a while, a push that most presidential candidates held to after 20 years of presence. These policies included the U.S. moving to transport thousands of civilian Afghans who have acted as translators or support roles. In an address on Monday, Biden said that "Operation Allies Refuge has already moved 2,000 Afghans eligible for special immigration visas and their families." For context, it is estimated that there are around 90,000 civilians who have provided support.
However, this may not be sufficient. The expedient effort led by the Taliban to take over Kabul has severely complicated any evacuation efforts. It has required additional forces to travel to Afghanistan.
The state of things has concerned many immigration-focused faith leaders. Chris Palusky, CEO of Bethany Christian Services, told Sojourners that he was heartened to see Biden committing to evacuating refugees but expressed concerns about how nonprofits and the U.S. government will do that. While the airport is still under U.S. military control, the growing presence of Taliban in the surrounding area presents a complicating threat for refugees; many of whom are targeted by Taliban forces for their support of the United States.
The vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, Jenny Yang, tweeted that the United States has failed its allies in Afghanistan. "The U.S. had ample time, plenty of precedents (like we did in Vietnam), and bipartisan political support to evacuate the approximately 18,000 Afghan #SIVs and their dependents," Yang wrote in a thread. "But we failed to do so, and now many of our Afghan allies will likely be left behind."
Other faith-based agencies have expressed similar concerns, even going as far as to claim that many of these problems had been anticipated, yet the federal government did very little. Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told Religion News Service that anyone familiar with how the visa process works would realize that the department would not be able to accommodate the needs of evacuating refugees in a timely way. "We've been screaming from the rooftops for months now that we need to get these allies to Guam or another U.S. territory," Vignarajah told RNS.
Unfortunately, the lack of an evacuation plan has put tens of thousands at risk. Faith groups struggle to accommodate the needs required to get these men and women out of the country.