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US ready to take in more Afghan refugees – but won’t help them leave

US ready to take in more Afghan refugees – but won’t help them leave

The United States has said it is ready to take in thousands more Afghans whose US links put them at risk from the Taliban as western troops leave, but the asylum-seekers will face an arduous journey to safety.

Less than a month before the United States is set to end its longest-ever war – and amid a surge in Talbian advances across Afghanistan – the state department expanded the eligibility of refugee admissions beyond the roughly 20,000 Afghans who have applied under a program for interpreters who assisted US forces and diplomats.

But the announcement came with a significant caveat: the US does not intend to help them leave the country, nor support them during the 12-14 month adjudication process.

“In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the state department said in a statement.

“This 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 US affiliation,” it said.

The state department said that the expanded eligibility will include Afghans who worked with US-based media organizations or non-governmental organizations or on projects backed by US funding.

The state department will also let in more Afghans who served as interpreters or in other support roles to forces of the US-led coalition but did not meet earlier requirements on time served.

A first group of more than 200 interpreters were flown into the United States on Friday as part of what has been dubbed Operation Allied Refuge amid gains on the ground by the Taliban.

Unlike with the interpreters, the United States said it had no immediate plans to fly out the newly eligible Afghans.

Instead, they will need to find their own way out of Afghanistan and support themselves during the lengthy process.

“However, we continue to review the situation on the ground, and we continue to examine all options to protect those who served with or for us,” a US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

The applicants cannot seek directly to come to the United States but need to have referrals by their current or former employers. Once they make it outside Afghanistan, processing will take one year to 14 months, the official said.

Another US official said that Washington, while not helping the new applicants escape, has asked other countries including Pakistan to keep their borders open to them.

But Pakistan was the historic backer of the Taliban and has also seen violence against Afghans, especially from the Hazara Shiite minority. Just Monday, the United States and Britain jointly accused the Taliban of massacring civilians in a town they recently captured on the Pakistani border.

The other major recipient of Afghan refugees is Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States. The second US official said that potential applicants had already moved on from Iran to Turkey, already the temporary home to millions of refugees from Syria.