• November 28, 2021

The Afghan friends we left behind

In 2018, a 26-year-old video journalist named Abadullah Hananzai, working for the US-funded Radio Azadi of RFE / RL, was killed in a double suicide bomb attack in Kabul. The second attacker had disguised himself as a media worker and deliberately blew himself up in a group of reporters who rushed to cover the scene of the first explosion. Hananzai was one of 25 people killed, including at least nine journalists.

Hananzai’s last audience facebook post “It was a tribute to his old colleague Abdul Manan Arghand, a journalist who had been shot dead by unknown gunmen the week before, ”the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

“Arghand is now a martyr for free speech,” Hananzai wrote, just five days before he became one himself.

In 2020, Afghanistan was tied as the world’s deadliest country for journalists, according to CPJ data. From the United States invaded in the country in 2001, 64 journalists and media workers were killed because of their work. However, as of Monday, those who worked for the US media had no way of obtaining a visa to resettle in the United States.

A new “Priority Two” visa designation “expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk due to their affiliation to the US. But who are not eligible. for a special immigrant visa (SIV) because they did not have a qualifying job, or because they have not met the time in service requirement to be eligible, ”the Department of State saying Monday.

In addition to journalists, the P-2 program also includes translators and other US government and NGO workers.

This are good news. But it comes after 20 years of retaliatory violence against these Afghans for aiding or reporting on the US war effort, and almost a year after Mohammed F., an Afghan interpreter for US forces. jury in a Washington Post article: “Mr. President-elect Joe Biden; We help you achieve your mission, now you help us reach safety. [sic] Thanks a lot.”

So … why now?

I spoke with Sunil Varghese, Policy Director for the New York-based International Refugee Assistance Project, to better understand the details of the new program. And, first qualifying that he is not a foreign policy expert, Varghese offered his theory on why the administration has been delayed.

“I think it is an intention of the Biden administration for Afghanistan to be a peaceful country with a long and stable future, so they really don’t want to encourage people to leave,” he said.

However, as US and NATO forces return home, the violence escalates. Murders of civilians have risen by nearly 50 percent in the first half of 2021, compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a recent report of the United Nations. (Women and children accounted for almost half of the civilian casualties.) And on Friday, Human Rights Watch saying that revenge killings perpetrated by the Taliban are on the rise.

They go after their known critics, and anyone who has worked with their enemy, the United States, is clearly one of them.

I know from experience that I could not do my work in dangerous countries without local media workers. Your knowledge of the terrain is essential: where it is dangerous, who to watch out for, etc. And you literally couldn’t work without translators.

I spent five years working at CPJ. I have long known the danger these men and women face while working alongside me, in places that are often their home cities or countries, allowing me to report stories that people in those places Really I don’t want to be told.

Whatever the danger, in the end, I know I can always leave. My repairers, translators, and drivers often have to stay in their place, among the people who could hurt them.

I wrote here about what happened when my advisor in the DRC, Jack, and I went to the country’s intelligence agency to register our presence (as required). While there was no overt threat of violence, we were both detained for our role as journalists. And while I was released before sunset, Jack had to endure hours more of government agents yelling ridiculous questions and accusations.

Local media workers and journalists face endless risks, persecution and violence for making it possible to tell crucial stories to the world. Thousands of people have done that work reporting on the war in Afghanistan.

The new P-2 program is good news for the media and human rights organizations, but it is not a panacea. In reality, it is a glove with endless rings to go through, probably for years, before anyone can be resettled here.

“It will definitely be a challenge,” Varghese said.

Beyond the many interviews and background checks applicants will have to endure to obtain a P-2 visa, they also face an immediate challenge: They must leave Afghanistan to apply. But retaliatory violence is not delayed by red tape and due diligence – bullets and bombs don’t have to go through hoops.

“Where are you going?” Varghese asked. “How are they going to be able to leave the country safely? And how are they going to be able to safely relax in western Pakistan or Tajikistan for one or three years in this crazy backward refugee program, where refugee officers barely travel for interviews and people are trapped at security checkpoints? safety for years? “

You wonder, “How exactly is this supposed to work?”

At least the State Department knows the process is arduous.

“This is incredibly difficult,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Monday. “It is difficult on many levels.”

On the one hand, there is the general backlog of refugee applications, which some estimate at around 100,000. Adding more people to the process won’t make things go faster.

“Even the people who applied at the end of Obama’s time are still waiting, or were denied visas for no reason during the Trump administration,” said Janis Shinwari, a former Afghan interpreter for the US Army. He said The Washington Post. Shinwari came to the United States under the Special Immigrant Visa program more than seven years ago.

Right now, at least 30,000 Afghans are running away the country every week due to the increasing violence of the Taliban. Fortunately, while we may never know exactly “why now,” it appears that the State Department has finally woken up to the realization that the people who do some of the most dangerous jobs for and with Americans have a goal. bright red, white and blue on her back.

The sad part is that in Afghanistan, they have used that lens for two decades. And now, as they fall behind as American troops leave and the country disintegrates, the goal has only gotten bigger and easier to hit.

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