Helping Afghan Evacuees Takes Persistence

10/6/22 Asylum

Late last August, after learning about a six-year-old Afghan child’s ordeal, I reached out to the Afghan Evacuations Listserv hosted by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA had launched a project to support members who were assisting evacuees navigate the complexities of U.S. immigration law.

About 10 days earlier, this little boy had been shot in the face as his mother was holding him. They were at Kabul airport’s main terminal building when gunfire broke out. His parents ran for safety with him and his little brother in their arms.

Kabul hospitals had refused to treat the child – so he was suffering at home with no pain meds, antibiotics, or medical treatment when I first learned about him. So many listserv members stepped forward to help, advise, and express concern. One even helped me find a way to get him to the hospital that had (finally!) agreed to examine him. Given his injuries though, there was little the doctors there could do.

After over a year’s effort by volunteers (including, at one point, students from Cornell’s Afghan Assistance Clinic) and many steps backward and forward, this boy and his family were relocated to Doha, Qatar in late August.  The family had received a conditional grant of Humanitarian Parole in February resulting from a Department of State application directly to USCIS. Not until June, after going through subsequent layers of approval, were they referred to the Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts (CARE). An Army veteran navigated the insider maze of agency contacts that got us from one stage to the next.

I am relieved to report that in early October, this little boy and his family entered the U.S. in Refugee status. They are now at a children’s hospital in Delaware where he will receive reconstructive surgery (gratis) over the next few months.  Soon this family will be able to apply for permanent residence, build a new life, go to school, dream big, and live safely.

There was an immense amount of hard work here – but so much of this story has been about luck in meeting people who could take action and cared enough to help. Without those two ingredients, this child would not have made it.

I feel fortunate to have been a part of this boy’s successful entry to the U.S. and grateful that he and his family were able to enter as Refugees. I’m deeply concerned though, for the many people still suffering and left vulnerable in Afghanistan, or waiting in limbo overseas, and even those Afghans who have made it to the U.S. but have no certainty as they try to find their way through the maze of policies and processes. I join my fellow immigration attorneys in wanting a solution for these evacuees – the Afghan Adjustment Act needs to be enacted. Take Action and contact Congress so we can do right by these vulnerable people who have sacrificed so much.

by Jennifer Atkinson