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Years after escaping Afghanistan, refugee advocate calls for immediate humanitarian response

Posted at 3:12 PM, Aug 20, 2021

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is growing more dire, with thousands displaced from their homes, banks shut down, and aid workers forced to flee.

Homayra Yusufi, with the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), has been working to help refugees desperate to leave the country, fielding calls from family members left feeling hopeless.

“Right now, I’m thinking about what can be done immediately. How do we reduce harm? How do we protect people’s lives immediately, right now?” asked Yusufi.

The nation's history is a painful indicator of what may come.

“The country has gone through 40 years of war and devastation," said Yusufi. "My parents had to leave Afghanistan when a bomb hit our street, and they had three kids whose lives were in danger. And they were the lucky ones.”

Her organization is part of the Afghan-American Coalition, formed in response to the crisis. They're mobilizing nonprofits to amplify the needs of those most at risk, like women, children, and ethnic and religious minorities persecuted by the Taliban.

"We’re really prioritizing a humanitarian response right now, recognizing all of the issues happening right now--the lack of humanitarian aid, the lack of water, food, shelter for the internally displaced, as well as the basically stopping of the economy for everyone else in Afghanistan," said Yusufi. "And trying to make sure that our families are able to survive this.”

As the Taliban took over the country, hundreds of thousands were forced to flee their homes.

"They don’t have very many options. They can’t go hide right now. They're trying to find basic food, water, shelter, feed their families.”

The coalition released a call to action advocating for immediate steps to be taken by the U.S. government:

Prioritize emergency evacuations for Afghans:

  • Leverage U.S. influence to secure the Karzai International Airport in Kabul and supply additional government-run evacuation flights for Afghans.

Expand and expedite processing P-1/P-2/Special Immigrant Visas:

  • Broaden eligibility and remove unnecessary barriers to meet strict P1, P2, and SIV requirements that significantly delay the approval process and increase processing capacity.
  • Create a special humanitarian parole program to meet this urgent need.
  • Use diplomatic channels to urge allies to drop visa requirements.

Deliver immediate humanitarian assistance:

  • Provide urgent humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities in Afghanistan, including internally displaced persons (IDPs), women-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs), persecuted ethnic and religious groups targeted by the Taliban, and others.
  • Help establish a humanitarian corridor and secure a guarantee from the Taliban to allow humanitarian NGOs and their supply chains to operate freely in all areas.

Welcome Afghan refugees:

  • Increase the annual refugee allocation by 100,000 and reassess based on need.
  • Instate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for all Afghan refugees.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says more than 18 million people in Afghanistan need humanitarian assistance.

The Afghan-American Coalition says Americans who want to help should call their representatives in congress. They have tools online to help people figure out who their lawmakers are and how to voice their support for an immediate humanitarian response.

Yusufi also suggests donating or volunteering for local organizations serving refugees.

“I would say that history will be counting the number of innocent lives at stake right now," said Yusufi. "And that providing a humanitarian response to this catastrophe is the only thing that we can do at this moment.”