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Afghans in Kabul

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport on August 16, 2021. (Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

US Lawmakers and Human Rights Advocates Urge Open Doors for Afghan Refugees

"We must immediately expedite and increase the processing capacity for Afghan refugee resettlement and make family reunification a major priority. Anything less is unacceptable."

Jessica Corbett

While the world watched with alarm Monday as multiple people were reportedly killed at Kabul's international airport as U.S. Embassy personnel evacuated Afghanistan and the Taliban took over the capital city, progressive American lawmakers and human rights defenders continued to call for accepting Afghan refugees.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) urged putting people first no matter where they are born, starting with "opening our country to shelter refugees fleeing the consequences of our actions."

In her Sunday night tweets, Tlaib emphasized the connection between current conditions in the country and decades of "failed U.S. policy," declaring that "innocent people suffer the horrors of war while political leaders and arms-dealing corporations sit back and make billions."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also took to Twitter Sunday to lay blame on the U.S. military occupation and encourage the Biden administration to welcome people trying to leave Afghanistan, fearful of what their lives will look like under a return to Taliban rule.

"Foreign policy matters," Sanders said, highlighting the lives and money lost since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago. "At this moment, we must do everything we can to evacuate our allies and open our doors to refugees."

Emphasizing a "moral obligation to the Afghan people," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that "we must immediately welcome them to the U.S. and provide real support as they rebuild their lives."

Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) delivered a broader message, also highlighting other populations facing dire conditions—including Haitians impacted by a devastating earthquake over the weekend.

"Our work is to save lives," she said. "Whether it's Afghanistan, Haiti, Lebanon, or communities facing extreme hardship worldwide—one thing we could do to save lives RIGHT NOW is become a country that welcomes more refugees with open arms. Refugees must be welcome here."

The lone opponent of the 2001 resolution that authorized the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), also chimed in:

Rana Abdelhamid is a primary challenger to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

In a series of tweets noting that she was nine years old when Maloney donned a burqa in Congress "to justify the invasion of Afghanistan," Abdelhamid said that "for the rest of my life, I knew that as a Muslim woman my identity would be weaponized to justify American wars."

"It's time to root foreign policy in peace and diplomacy—not endless wars and bottomless Pentagon budgets. Our officials must be held accountable for misleading the public nearly every step of the way," she continued, while also echoing the call for welcoming refugees.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, in a statement Monday, said that "throughout its 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. never prioritized the safety and dignity of Afghan civilians—it must do so today."

The advocacy group specifically called upon "the U.S.—which can leverage vast amounts of public wealth on militarism and endless war—to do everything within its considerable power to offer refuge for the thousands of vulnerable Afghan people, including human rights defenders."

"We continue to call for accountability for U.S. officials responsible for a range of war crimes and crimes against humanity that we have fought against over the past 20 years," the group added, "and for the United States to support Afghans in their own efforts for justice and accountability, as we profoundly hope the vulnerable among the Afghanistan population are afforded protection, refuge, and respect for their human rights."

"What we are witnessing in Afghanistan is a tragedy that should have been foreseen and averted," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general, said Monday. "It will only be compounded further without swift and decisive action from the international community."

Callamard warned that "thousands of Afghans at serious risk of Taliban reprisals—from academics and journalists to civil society activists and women human rights defenders—are in danger of being abandoned to a deeply uncertain future."

"Foreign governments must take every necessary measure to ensure the safe passage out of Afghanistan for all those at risk of being targeted by the Taliban," she said. "This includes expediting visas, delivering support for evacuations from Kabul airport, providing relocation and resettlement, and suspending all deportations and forced returns."

Such demands were echoed in a congressional call script circulated by Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, a group of dedicated progressive and leftist organizers in the Afghan diaspora.

"The U.S. must supply government-run evacuation flights for these vulnerable Afghans," the script reads in part, noting that people at the Kabul airport clung to a departing U.S. plane.

The script also urges broadening visa eligibility and expedited processing for certain visas, and says that "the U.S. must demand that third-party processing countries drop visa requirements for those fleeing Afghanistan. These requirements are difficult to meet in the best of times, let alone during a humanitarian disaster and political collapse of a country. Further, the Department of Homeland Security must designate Afghans for Temporary Protected Status to prevent deportations or other returns to Afghanistan."

The document, which also features contact information for chairs of key congressional committees, adds that "after pursuing 20 years of failed policies that have engendered a humanitarian crisis, the absolute least the U.S. can do is provide refuge to those seeking it."

This post has been updated with comment from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

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