US speeds up visas for vulnerable Afghans
As the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, the Biden administration says it is adding staff to hurry up the visa process for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and want to flee to avoid Taliban reprisals, Reuters reported.
Afghans who worked for the United States during America’s longest war fear the insurgency will target them and their families, retribution for helping foreign forces, Reuters reported.
With the final pullout expected as early as mid-July, there appears to be a mismatch between the expectations of refugee advocates and what the Biden administration says is realistic given the legal and practical requirements to process special immigrant visas.
The administration says it has already doubled the number of staff processing cases in Kabul and tripled personnel reviewing petitions at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
It also plans a five-fold increase in the number of staff in the State Department working on the visas in Washington, a senior administration official told Reuters.
“All of these changes have resulted in, over the last couple of months, the largest number of cases processed in the history of the program in any 60-day period,” the official said, speaking about the plans on condition of anonymity.
The plan is to process at least 1,000-1,400 visa applications for Afghans who worked for the United States, not including their families, every month. By contrast, the U.S. government says, it issued only 237 such visas in the last three months of 2020.
But even with the new effort, the administration says there’s a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process can move without changes to legislation. If all goes well, a visa could be processed in nine to 12 months, Reuters reported.
The administration supports legislation in Congress that would allow Afghans to do a medical check upon arriving in the United States, instead of in Afghanistan. It is also supports legislation eliminating the requirement for a specific petition at the Department of Homeland Security.
“That would be another two months that we could shave off,” the first official said.
But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas are becoming increasingly concerned.
Senator Patrick Leahy, recalling the chaos in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975 when he was a junior senator, said the matter was urgent.
“They’re going to have a target on their back,” Leahy said.
IEA, Iranian officials hold talks after border clash
Following the border clash in Nimroz province on Saturday, officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and Iran have held talks in a bid to reduce tensions.
Two Iranian border guards and one IEA guard were killed after the shooting that happened near a border post in Nimroz.
Tehran and Kabul have said that peace has returned to the area and both sides have pledged to avoid such incidents.
IEA has emphasized that Afghanistan does not want war with any of its neighbors and wants to have friendly relations with Iran.
“The Islamic Emirate believes in talks regarding any issue that happens. So this is a very good option. We want that all the issues that exist or the concerns that we have are addressed through talks,” said Bilal Karimi, IEA’s deputy spokesman.
Iran’s interior minister also downplayed the clash and said that the border gate of the Silk Bridge has been reopened and economic exchanges between the two countries have resumed.
“There was a brief conflict and it was resolved. Negotiations were also held with the Taliban (IEA). Now we have no problem. The border is open and peaceful,” Ahmad Wahidi, Iran’s Minister of Interior, said.
Iran’s military officials also said that such incidents should be prevented.
“The meeting took place. Now we have come to see what the parties should do so that this kind of unfortunate incident does not happen,” Qassem Rezaei, deputy commander of Iran’s national police, said.
The clash happened amid tensions between the two countries over water rights.
Iran has accused the IEA of violating a 1973 treaty by restricting the flow of water from the Helmand river to Iran, an accusation denied by the IEA.
Earlier this month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the IEA over disregarding Iran’s water rights under the treaty. The IEA rejected Raisi’s perceived threat.
An Iranian cleric criticized Raisi’s remarks.
“Your diplomatic language was not correct. You suggested (to IEA) to take your words seriously and not complain later. Is this a proper statement? What answer did you get? You embarrassed this nation,” Abdulrahman Omarzahi, a religious scholar in Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran, said.
Afghanistan weather bureau issues heavy rain and flood warning
The Afghanistan Department of Meteorology issued a warning Monday on the possibility of heavy rain and floods in 19 provinces over the next two days.
In a warning on their website, they said heavy rains and floods could be expected on Monday and Tuesday in Badakhshan, Nuristan, Kunar, Laghman, Baghlan, Nangarhar, Kabul, Logar, Paktia, Khost, Paktika, Zabul, Ghazni, Maidan Wardak, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Parwan, Panjshir and Kapisa province.
According to the department, the amount of rainfall is predicted to be between 10 and 30 mm.
Last week, the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA) reported that over the past month, at least 42 people died and 45 were injured in 13 provinces due to natural disasters.
Shafiullah Rahimi, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a video that during this period, 341 houses were completely or partially destroyed, 19,573 acres of agricultural land were damaged, and 1,354 livestock were lost in these provinces, mostly in flash floods.
According to Rahimi, these incidents took place in the provinces of Kapisa, Maidan Wardak, Takhar, Badakhshan, Ghor, Kandahar, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Paktia, Khost, Daikundi and Nangarhar.
In addition to this, recent floods caused huge financial losses to residents.
The press office of the governor of Ghor has said that a joint delegation from various government departments visited Taywara and Pasaband districts of the province, to assess the flood damage.
“Five thousand, eight hundred and ninety-five acres of agricultural land, 105 drinking water wells, and water springs were destroyed in two districts, 74 shops were partially destroyed and some were completely destroyed,” the statement said.
In addition, 32 houses were partially destroyed, along with 201 small water dams, fourteen culvert bases and 559 small water reservoirs and canals.
Ghor’s press office said the team had shared the results of its investigations with the local administration, but no help has yet been received for the flood victims.
IEA’s Prime Minister congratulates Erdogan on his victory
Prime Minister of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, has extended his heartfelt congratulations to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on his re-election.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, won an election runoff Sunday after the strongest challenge to his 20-year rule.
The IEA Prime Minister expressed his sincere hope for increased strength, stability, and dedication to religious service in Turkey under President Erdogan’s leadership.
Akhund also noted the bond of brotherhood and friendship between the people of Afghanistan and Turkey and conveyed his aspirations for continued cooperation and mutual support between the two nations in various fields.
He also said Erdogan’s successful re-election will further strengthen diplomatic ties and shared values between the two countries.
Official results showed Erdogan’s challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
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