By: Lexi Carroll
On August 15, 2021, Kabul tragically fell to the Taliban—the final indication that the Taliban had overthrown Afghanistan. Consequently, Afghans’ lives were immediately threatened by violence and unrest, and women’s rights and girls’ education were at risk of being dismantled. Any semblance of basic human rights were, and continue to be, in jeopardy (for a comprehensive overview of the state of affairs that forced Afghans to flee, see Alexis Eisa’s September blog post). When Afghans fled out of fear, over 74,000 sought refuge in the United States.
Today, more than five months after the fall, the prospect of Afghans creating new, comfortable lives in the United States is both hopeful and unnervingly slow. In July, the Biden administration enacted Operation Allies Welcome to provide support and assistance to those relocating from Afghanistan. In part, the Operation has been a success; in December, more than 38,000 Afghans, American citizens, and permanent residents were relocated to their new communities across the nation.
However, at the end of 2021, roughly 23,000 evacuees remained on six military bases throughout the United States, their temporary homes nothing more than camps. It is unclear how temporary these living situations are; for some families, their days at the bases have turned into months, without being informed of a future resettlement date. And even some who have been designated a city with some form of housing have yet to see their other basic needs met. Take “Amir” (whose real identity has been concealed for fear of Taliban retaliation); he’s been provided housing in Dallas, but his caseworkers have yet to obtain him Medicare coverage or enroll his young son in school. In Houston, some Afghans have been placed in relatively unsafe neighborhoods in apartments with black mold infested bathrooms. In San Diego, a family of evacuees had to utilize $3,400 of the $5,000 they received from the resettlement agency to cover one month’s rent and the security deposit. These gaps in service are a reflection of an overwhelmed system: Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, who leads one of the nine resettlement agencies that work with the State Department, estimates that “case managers are serving the number that they would have served in a year in a week.”
These difficulties of course stem in part from Afghanistan collapsing at such an unexpectedly fast rate. The crisis immediately became dire and organizations were forced to respond without plans in place. But the above delay in meaningful resettlement is also largely a product of the Trump administration’s continuous budget cuts to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. Those cuts forced over 100 government-funded resettlement offices to close and left others scrambling for resources. So, when the fallout in Afghanistan proceeded quicker than anticipated, U.S. resettlement organizations struggled to support Afghan refugees adequately.
The near future for Afghans in both Afghanistan and the United States is uncertain, frightening, and its success requires support from the federal government. As the policy director for the International Refugee Assistance Project stated, “the U.S. military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan may have ended in Afghanistan, but [the] U.S. government’s obligation did not.” As the crisis evolves, it is important that the U.S. government continues to support and provide resources to Afghan refugees and Americans continue to welcome them into their communities.
Lexi graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in English and a minor in Spanish. She is a 2L at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and hopes to eventually work in a position combining environmental law and civil rights. Her personal interests include traveling, hiking, finding new ways to live sustainably, and trying local Phoenix restaurants.