Dozens of Afghan refugees who were removed to the United Arab Emirates to await transfer to the US are volunteering to go back and help family members despite fears that the Taliban will hunt them down and kill them, according to a report.
An evacuee who worked at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport told the Wall Street Journal that US military officials promised he would be allowed to enter America because of his help with the evacuation effort.
The man, who was interviewed in Afghanistan, said his family’s savings were depleted while he waited for his case to be resolved at the temporary refugee camp in the UAE, forcing him to return home.
“I have to go because of my family. It’s been almost seven months. My family has nothing to eat. Who will feed them?” he said he told US officials.
The man said he was working at the airport when the Taliban stormed into Kabul this past August and took over the government. He was unable to take his family with him upon his initial departure.
To leave the UAE camp, he told the newspaper, he had to sign a document saying he wouldn’t be at risk for retaliation, even though he fears the Taliban will track him down for working with the US.
“I told them of course my life will be in danger,” he said. “They said, ‘You can’t go unless you sign it.’ So I had no other option.”
The evacuee said he was among a group of roughly 45 Afghans who left the UAE last week. Many of the refugees are their family’s primary breadwinners, and said they hoped they would be able to start working again and send money back home to Afghanistan.
The State Department wouldn’t say how many Afghans had volunteered to be returned to Afghanistan. It also declined comment on the requirement to sign papers about the risk of returning.
“We have encouraged Afghans at U.A.E. Emirates Humanitarian City not to return to Afghanistan, as we complete surveys among remaining travelers to determine their eligibility for onward travel to the U.S. or potentially a third country,” the State Department said.
“The United States remains in active conversations with bilateral and international partners about third country resettlement for those Afghans who may ultimately not be able to travel to the United States,” it said.
The former airport worker is at a relative’s house with his wife and daughters, living in fear the Taliban will discover his whereabouts.
“I have no job, no salary and unfortunately no future,” he said.
As thousands of evacuees remain in limbo at the UAE camp, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday that it had extended Temporary Protected Status to Afghans living in the US as of March 15.
“This TPS designation will help to protect Afghan nationals who have already been living in the United States from returning to unsafe conditions,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement released Wednesday.
To be eligible for the status, Afghans in the US must meet requirements including passing security and background checks. It will remain in effect for 18 months.
The Journal report said thousands of Afghans have been waiting for six months to be allowed into the US after fleeing their home country.
The camps in UAE were supposed to be temporary, but Afghans who do not have the required documentation to enter the US have found themselves stuck in limbo.
To make matters worse, because of COVID-19 regulations, many of them are confined to their room and lack access to immigration officials.
“There is no hope to wake up to. If you wake up in prison, at least you know [when you’ll be released],” an evacuee at the camp told the newspaper. “Here you don’t know. And you don’t know whom to contact for help.”