The U.S. government is racing to relocate hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugee families after 6,000 mostly female Afghan refugees entered this country illegally last week. The immigrants include women, children and adults with pre-existing medical problems who will take months to receive proper medical care and even longer to be permanently relocated to a host state.
Efforts by the U.S. State Department to relocate the refugees is being hampered by a shortage of trained translators and interpreters who have skills that make them valuable for local social service agencies, according to political advocacy organizations serving Afghan refugees in Afghanistan. Also troubling, the State Department has limited visas available to refugees so translators, aid workers and others are ineligible.
“Every single day there is a hole in the system and some day we will have a window and that’s it,” said Anita Peterson, executive director of The Committee for Refugees of Afghanistan, an Afghan refugee advocacy group. “It’s an extremely challenging situation and unfortunately the federal government is not taking care of it.”
The State Department says it continues to work on settling the remaining 28,000 Afghan refugees under its 2009 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, but that they will soon become “migrable” — meaning they will be able to leave Afghanistan and travel to their eventual destinations.
“We are not providing any specific numbers of applicants who have relocated since October 1, 2009,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said in a statement to Fox News. “Once eligible, we believe they will travel in the coming months.”
Scholars who have advised the Obama administration on refugee resettlement worry that U.S. politics could sap public support for a resettlement program at a time when the Islamic State is tightening its grip in Afghanistan.
“The situation in Afghanistan is volatile and it will take a number of years for these refugees to be taken care of in Afghanistan,” said Mariam Behrouz, an Afghan refugee who immigrated to the U.S. in 2001. “Most of them are displaced and they have been there for years.”
Afghanistan’s fractured government is severely limited in its capacity to improve the condition of Afghan families who have left their country years ago.
“If anyone comes to the government, we have no role to play,” said Ali Hazareh, a deputy undersecretary at the Ministry of Justice. “Afghanistan is not capable of absorbing these families. This is a burden for our nation. We need help from other countries.”
In February 2009, the State Department implemented the Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Processing Plan that set the daily quota for Afghans admitted to the U.S. for the remainder of 2009 — which came to a little more than 21,000 people — and in 2010, which came to more than 18,500.
That quota of refugees is still a bit higher than in 2017. Of all current eligible refugees, according to the State Department, 8,255 have already been resettled.
Still, the department is struggling to find safe havens for all Afghan refugees, more than a decade after they were targeted for retaliatory attacks by al Qaeda extremists fleeing U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. Many stayed and in the aftermath suffered fatal violence.
While the State Department denies the resettlement of Afghan refugees was slowed by Trump, it concedes the political transition in Afghanistan isn’t easy.
“The United States is by far the largest donor to Afghanistan, providing nearly $6 billion to programs to improve the livelihoods of Afghans in the country,” Trudeau said. “While we continue to assist Afghan civil society through USAID’s Humanitarian Assistance Program, our humanitarian operations are constantly at risk of being disrupted by pressure from terrorist groups.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Jacki Lyden is a Fox News producer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @JackiLyden