Afghan Refugees Protest Delayed Visas at US Embassy in Madagascar | Refugee News

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A group of refugees from Afghanistan gathered outside the US Embassy in Madagascar’s capital, Antananarivo, to demand that their cases be processed after years of waiting.

At least a dozen Afghans, including adults and children, gathered outside the embassy premises on Monday, saying they had applied for the US refugee admissions program in 2019, but were not had yet received no update until two months ago when they had talks with a US. Citizenship and Immigration Services Officer (USCIS).

Since then, their wait for answers has continued, they said.

“They said after a month they were giving us the result, after now they haven’t given the result,” said refugee Ahmadullah, who like the others gathered asked to use only his first name. for fear of reprisals against his family in Afghanistan. .

“We have no word,” he told Al Jazeera. “We have nothing.”

Bahar, a spokesman for the group, told Al Jazeera via video chat from the protest: “They’ve been holding us hostage since 2019… Now we’re sitting here in this rain. We won’t leave until we get that answer.

Those gathered said they had worked for NATO forces or U.S. and foreign companies and nonprofits in Afghanistan and therefore faced retaliation from the Taliban if they returned to their native country.

Bahar, a former IT manager for Afghanistan’s central bank, told Al Jazeera he previously worked with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and his family provided land and support to the NGO. American Morning Star in their native village of Jegdalek. He fled to Madagascar in 2018 after his mother was killed in a Taliban attack.

Another woman sitting outside the embassy, ​​Bibi Maria, said she fled Afghanistan the same year with her four children after the Taliban killed her husband, who she said was a supplier to US troops and the army. NATO.

Some of the people gathered carried placards with Afghan flags that read “please thank you [sic] about us” and “we want results.

With few travel options available, fleeing Afghans said they chose Madagascar because they could obtain a visa upon arrival.

As of April, there were 20 UN-registered Afghan refugees in the country, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). While the refugees receive basic support through a local organization affiliated with UNHCR, they cannot work, and they say their children cannot go to school and access to health care remains very limited.

The UN has said that while Madagascar offers refugees and asylum seekers protection from deportation or forced return to their country of origin, it has no law to provide them with social support, permission to work or health care.

Meanwhile, the island nation’s economy has struggled amid the coronavirus pandemic. About 77% of the population lives in poverty, which is aggravated by regular natural disasters.

“We have nothing now,” Bibi Maria said through a translator. “No money. My children are sick. Where are we going?”

Resettlement arrears

The protest comes as the United States faces a tidal wave of Afghan refugees seeking to enter the country since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021 amid the withdrawal of the United States and other NATO forces stationed there.

But there are backlogs of applicants to Afghan refugee resettlement programs in the United States, partly because of the pandemic and also because of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion of their country.

One program offers special immigrant visas (SIVs) to Afghans who have worked directly for the US government or for companies that have contracted with the US government, but it is known to have a difficult entry barrier.

Shortly before the fall of Afghanistan, the US State Department also announced Priority 2 (P-2) designation, an extension of the US refugee admissions program. It prioritizes Afghans who do not meet the stricter SIV criteria, but who have worked in support of US and NATO forces, for US media or NGOs, or on US-funded projects. .

Afghans living abroad can also apply for humanitarian parole, which grants emergency access to the United States. This is what was granted to the 76,000 Afghan citizens evacuated to the United States amid the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

However, CBS News reported in June that more than 90% of fully adjudicated applications for that status by Afghans outside the United States have been rejected since July 2021.

The U.S. Embassy in Madagascar and the Comoros did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Al Jazeera regarding the refugee situation.

Bahar said the decision to protest on Monday was spontaneous.

“We just decided, we’ll sit here for days, we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We have no money to pay our rent. Many of us don’t have money for food, so where are we going? Why don’t they give us results? »

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