US to launch ‘Operation Allies Refuge’ in July

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Washington to evacuate eligible Afghan nationals and their families who helped the American military during the two-decade war, reports Asian Lite News

The US will launch “Operation Allies Refuge” in late July to evacuate eligible Afghan nationals and their families who helped the American military during the two-decade war in the South Asian country, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced.

“Flights out of Afghanistan for SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) applicants who are already in the pipeline will begin in the last week of July and will continue,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a daily briefing.

“our objective is to get individuals who are eligible relocated out of the country in advance of the removal, of the withdrawal of troops at the end of August.”

She did not provide a specific number of qualified applicants, citing operational and security reasons.

“We are working closely with Congress to change the authorisation legislation so that we can streamline the process of approving these visas,” she added.

US soldiers prepare to depart from Kunduz, Afghanistan. (Brian Harris Planet Pix ZUMA_dpa_IANS)

According to media reports, an estimated 18,000 applicants are already awaiting visas, with an estimated 53,000 family members seeking to accompany them. The application process can take as long as 800 days.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been facing pressure from lawmakers to work out a plan to evacuate Afghans who helped the US military and are vulnerable to Taliban reprisals amid the withdrawal of troops.

President Biden announced last week that US military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31, days ahead of his original September 11 deadline.

The US Central Command said on Tuesday that the military has already completed over 95 per cent of the withdrawal.

The security situation in the war-torn country has deteriorated as Taliban militants continue heavy fighting against government forces and are gaining ground since the drawdown of the US troops on May 1.

UNHCR warns of humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is warning of a looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as the escalating conflict brings increased human suffering and civilian displacement.

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said that an estimated 270,000 Afghans have been newly displaced inside the country since January 2021, primarily due to insecurity and violence, bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million.

Families forced to flee their homes in recent weeks cite the worsening security situation as the predominant reason for their flight.

Baloch said in addition to ongoing fighting, displaced civilians have told the UNHCR and partners of incidents of extortion by non-state armed groups and the presence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on major roads.

Many have reported interruptions to social services and a loss of income due to rising insecurity.

The number of civilian casualties has risen 29 per cent during the first quarter of this year compared to 2020, according to UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

An increasing proportion of women and children were among those targeted.

The needs of those who have had to flee suddenly are acute.

UNHCR and partners, as part of a coordinated response, are assisting newly displaced Afghans with emergency shelter, food, health, water and sanitation support and cash assistance, despite challenges in accessing vulnerable groups.

Baloch said the resilience of the Afghan people has been pushed to the limit by prolonged conflict, high levels of displacement, the impact of Covid-19, recurrent natural disasters, including drought, and deepening poverty.

Some 65 per cent of the Afghan population, in and outside of Afghanistan, are children and young people.

“A failure to reach a peace agreement in Afghanistan and stem the current violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond,” Baloch said.

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