On August 2nd Rahmat Jafari, editor of three of The Fruit of Our Labor films, contacted me. He asked about new US Congressional legislation that I had also just heard about in the news. The US Congress passed special legislation to allow US media organizations and NGOs that worked with Afghans to refer them for evacuation. He wanted to know if I could file a referral for him. I read up on the legislation and over the next two weeks filed “Priority 2” referrals for Rahmat and 23 other Afghans that worked with CSFilm since 2009. Each referral required extensive documentation of the work relationship and of all family members.
With the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15th, the pressure was on to help get at risk Afghans out of Afghanistan. The obstacles were immense, including Taliban checkpoints, crushing crowds at the airport and a lack of coordination of evacuation efforts. It was a night and day effort for many weeks:
- Submitting names and documentation to countless “priority evacuation lists” being requested (without coordination) by the State Department, congressional offices, NGOs and private organizations – mostly associated with veterans of the Afghan war.
- Attempting to contact numerous foreign governments and international organizations coordinating their own evacuation flights.
- Participating in and learning from a coalition of thousands of individuals and organizations networked by the Truman Foundation through a Slack network.
- Coordinating with the Polish Embassy in Delhi and their ground staff in Kabul for the evacuation of 4 families through Kabul airport to Poland.
- Assisting with the cross-country movement of 1 family from Kabul to Herat and onto a United Nations Humanitarian Assistance flight to Pakistan.
By the beginning of September, after the departure of all foreign forces from Kabul airport, the opportunities for air evacuation diminished dramatically and research turned to options for evacuation to neighboring countries. We also began contributing to advocacy efforts to hold the US government and international community accountable to the promises made.
To help support Afghans we launched the Afghan Evacuation & Resettlement Fund. The fund was established to help families, both in and out of Afghanistan, survive without work and income. In Afghanistan there has been a humanitarian crisis with skyrocketing prices and food scarcity. Those out of the country left everything behind and face a multi-year legal process to receive asylum and extensive costs to resettle. The fund raised $37,000 to help CSFilm support 24 families, 121 individuals, with logistical, legal, and financial needs.
In October we joined a coalition of 180 organization working on Afghan evacuation and resettlement. The coalition meets three nights a week and includes read-outs from weekly meetings with the Department of State and other governmental and non-governmental organization working on issues related to the evacuation and resettling of Afghans. Coalition members are responsible to serve on working groups. CSFilm serves on the Advocacy and Third Country Alternatives working committees.
Coalition partners and immigration lawyers advised us in October that we should file Humanitarian Parole (HP) applications as an alternative to the Priority 2 (P2) program. There was increasing concern that the agency responsible for processing the P2 applications was unresponsive, and some Republican legislators were talking about walking back the parameters of the P2 program. Due to the substantial costs involved we prioritized twelve families in Afghanistan or neighboring countries for HP applications. The US government charges $575 per family member. We solicited nine pro bono lawyers to file the complex applications and assisted with coordinating documentation for all family members and the payment of application fees. It was advised that for some applications we file for fee waivers. In addition, we had to identify a Sponsor for each family to guarantee that the families would not become a burden to the United States. We reached out to CSFilm supporters for HP Sponsors. With legal consultation we secured sponsors for all families.
As of April 2022, CSFilm has sent close to $25,000 to eight families, forty-two individuals, in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. $16,300 is to help with food and housing, and $5,800 for documents required to migrate such as passports, visas and residency permits in neighboring countries. As of now, we are unable to send funds to those resettled in Europe or Canada, since it would impact the assistances they are receiving from local governments. The fund has paid close to $8,000 to the US government for HP application fees.
Of the 24 families we initially set out to assist:
- 9 families are still in Afghanistan, some in constant hiding and movement.
- 2 are in Iran, one of which had a baby a month ago and both have been treated very brutally by the Iranian government and people. They have no path out of the country.
- 4 were in Pakistan, two are still there. One family, who also had a baby recently, could not afford to stay in Pakistan and returned to Afghanistan. Another was forced back into Afghanistan by the Pakistan police.
- 8 families got on the planes that flew out of the chaos of the Kabul airport in August. Those families are in Europe or Canada waiting for asylum in their host country or the US.
- Since August, only one family has escaped overland with help from the Germans.
The work continues and includes researching and networking about options for asylum for third countries such as Brazil and Mexico. We have had to completely resubmit all P2 application materials with more documentation of employment activities and payment. As of April 22, the US government has only acknowledged three of the twenty-four Priority 2 referrals submitted in August and September 21 by CSFilm.