More than 230 Afghan children are alone in the US while their parents or guardians remain in Afghanistan, according to new figures from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement obtained by NBC News, and as it becomes more difficult to evacuate someone from Afghanistan, there is little hope of quick reunions.
Only one flight of evacuees leaves Kabul each week, and some countries where Afghans wait while applying to come to the US are no longer accepting refugees.
As of August 30, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, had 104 children in its care, while 130 were in the custody of state governments or non-governmental organizations. Of the 104 still in federal care, 42 are in foster care, according to ORR data.
During the chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghans who had helped the US in August 2021, many Afghan families made the difficult decision to split up in order to bring as many family members as possible to safety. More than 1,500 children came to the US unaccompanied, and ORR has placed more than 1,400 with family members or other adults.
The goal remains to reunite all Afghan children with their parents or relatives in the US, a spokesman said, although many have no family outside of Afghanistan yet.
“Once it is determined that a child does not have a trusted adult, we immediately begin to reunite these children with their families and loved ones as soon as possible, including by helping Afghans who have arrived in the United States and have relatives abroad. . coming to the United States,” an ORR spokesperson said in a statement.
“These children have endured far more trauma than any child ever should,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “The urgency of this moment means we are doing everything we can to reunite these vulnerable children with their families. … These children cannot afford to wait decades for the United States to deliver on its promise to those left behind.”
Since the US exit from Afghanistan and its takeover by the Taliban, the Taliban have restricted the number of flights leaving Kabul, harassed Afghans – especially women – who try to leave and charged exorbitant fees for charter flights. In November, the Taliban halted all evacuation flights for several months over a dispute over how Kabul’s airport was managed and who was leaving on the flights.
Flights resumed in January. This summer, an average of two charter flights with evacuees departed each week, but since then the number has fallen again, falling to one a week this month.
Qatar has taken in tens of thousands of refugees in the past year, but its facilities cannot accommodate an unlimited number of people, and now Secretary of State Antony Blinken is urging Afghanistan’s neighbors to take in refugees so they can access US consular services and apply to come to USA
Tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans still in Afghanistan have received a referral for relocation to the US through the Priority-1 or Priority-2 categories of the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). But they would have to leave Afghanistan and go to a third country to have their cases handled. Even after a case is accepted into the USRAP system, it can take 12 to 18 months or more to process.
“We recognize that it is currently extremely difficult for Afghans to get a third country visa or find a way to enter a third country, and like many refugees, they may face significant challenges fleeing to safety,” said a spokesman for the State Department. “We will continue to assess the situation on the ground and consider all options available, and our schedule will continue to evolve. We strongly encourage Afghanistan’s neighbors to allow Afghans access and coordinate with humanitarian international organizations to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans in need.”
In October, State Department officials informed Congress that the Defense Department was compiling a list of priority Afghans for relocation from Afghanistan. They said the list would include former special operators, women in security forces, pilots, elite troops and Afghans who have knowledge of specific military and intelligence operations. They could be in danger because of their work for US and NATO forces, and they also knew things that could pose risks to the US if taken by kidnappers.
Now, nearly a year later, the Pentagon has drawn up the list, according to two US defense officials; neither was aware of official government efforts to prioritize evacuation efforts for such Afghans.
Asked about the list, a Pentagon spokesperson said: “The Department of Defense continues to support the State Department’s efforts to facilitate the relocation of former members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) by establishing Priority 1. receive and process (P-1) referrals submitted by U.S. military personnel, retirees, DoD citizens, and other affiliated members of the DoD community.
“Leaders across the department have long reiterated the solemn and lasting commitment we have to those Afghan brothers and sisters with whom we have served and sacrificed,” Army Major Rob Lodewick said. “For many in DoD, this commitment goes beyond policy, and remains very personal — manifesting not just in words, but in deeds. To date, such acts have resulted in nearly 94,000 Afghans arriving safely in the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome and we will continue to do everything we can to support ongoing multi-agency relocation efforts.”