Back in August 2021, there was this guy named Sayyid, but we’ll call him that just to keep him safe. Imagine how he must have felt watching the Taliban take control of Afghanistan – fear must’ve gripped his heart. He used to work as a field support representative for an American company, and he described feeling like a prisoner with a death sentence looming over him.
For about four years, Sayyid was the guy behind the scenes, making sure the Afghan military and police radio networks were up and running. But you know what? His job wasn’t just about radio systems; it was about supporting the brave folks in the Afghan military who risked their lives. Sometimes things got really dangerous, like that time the Taliban aimed a rocket at his car while he was traveling with a bunch of military folks. Crazy enough, everyone came out of it unscathed. But that incident shook Sayyid to his core – he always had this feeling that something bad was just around the corner.
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Because of his hard work, Sayyid was supposed to get this special immigrant visa thing (SIV) – a ticket to the U.S. for folks who put their necks on the line for the American government. In April 2021, he even rounded up around 250 of his coworkers to apply for these visas together. But for himself, he waited until August, probably hoping that Afghanistan could fend off the Taliban’s advance.
Fast forward two years, and Sayyid’s still in Afghanistan, along with more than 152,000 other folks who’ve applied for those SIVs. Can you believe it? That’s a whole bunch of people with uncertain futures. According to a report from the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General in April 2023, over 840,000 folks are stuck in Afghanistan, all hoping to get those SIVs.
But here’s the kicker – the SIV program has issues. Big ones. Like, getting all the right paperwork and recommendation letters is like running through a maze blindfolded. Adam Bates, from the International Refugee Assistance Project, says this whole process weighs super heavy on the applicants – and they’re the ones who are already in danger!
The Department of Defense and the State Department came up with something called Project Rabbit (they later changed the name to DAS-T) after the U.S. pulled out. It was supposed to make life easier for folks trying to prove they were eligible for these visas. But guess what? By May 2023, it was a mess, and they were looking at a backlog that could take six whole years to clear.
The Defense folks had their hands full, trying to verify the applicants and their work history. They could manage around 200 people a week, which is no small feat. But guess what? Folks still had complaints about Project Rabbit. The Defense people clarified that it was all about verifying the employment of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants who worked for DoD contractors or subcontractors.
Sayyid, after a year of waiting, finally got the thumbs-up in June 2022. But even though the State Department’s gotten a bit faster lately, Andrew Sullivan from No One Left Behind says it’ll still be around five and a half years before they catch up with all the backlogs. Crazy, right? They’re legally supposed to finish processing SIV applications in nine months.
And don’t even get me started on the hiccups along the way. You’d think getting some documents or a simple recommendation letter would be a breeze, but nope. Sometimes, it takes ages, especially in Afghanistan where even getting a passport could eat up half a year. Sayyid had his own challenges, like dodging the Taliban’s radar and helping his family leave.
But there are heroes in this story too. The #AfghanEvac crew, led by Shawn VanDiver, has been pulling off some serious magic. They’ve managed to rescue around 24,000 Afghans since September 2021 – can you believe it? Volunteers working their tails off to make a difference from halfway around the world.
Then there’s No One Left Behind. They’ve got more than 400 main SIV applicants and almost 900 family members out of Afghanistan in just one year. They’re like a superhero team, using donations and working alongside the CARE team and other nonprofits. You see, they can’t waste time because there’ve been reports of over 200 SIV applicants and their friends being killed since 2021.
There’s one gut-wrenching story about a former U.S. embassy worker who watched his buddy – a former U.S. Special Forces interpreter – get shot by the Taliban, right in front of his kids.
And Adam Bates, he’s not happy with the State Department. He thinks it’s more than just messing up; it’s a straight-up violation of the law when people under Taliban threat wait for years for their visas. Lives are on the line here.
Two years of uncertainty under the Taliban’s shadow have worn down Sayyid. He’s not sure if the future he’s waiting for is even worth all the effort anymore. It’s a tough spot to be in.