Human Rights First Welcomes Steps to Protect Ukrainians and Urges the Biden Administration to Honor its Promise to At-Risk Afghans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – While Human Rights First welcomes reports of the establishment of a special parole program for Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression, the organization calls on the Biden administration to undertake similar humanitarian protection efforts for Afghans and others around the world seeking safety from human rights abuses and persecution.

The creation of a Ukrainian special parole program to welcome Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression is, along with other steps to resettle refugees fleeing Ukraine, a necessary measure to respond to the growing refugee crisis in Europe. However, Human Rights First is deeply disappointed at the failure of the administration to create a specific parole program for at-risk Afghans and their lack of action to swiftly process and approve the tens of thousands of Afghan humanitarian parole requests received and pending since August 2021, as they too flee mortal danger from the Taliban. As famine grips the country and a well-documented reprisal campaign has been carried out against former American allies and other vulnerable Afghans, such as women, human rights defenders, and LGBTQ persons, now is the time for similar humanitarian action to save those who are at risk after America’s longest war.

“The Biden administration can and should act swiftly to provide humanitarian protection to Ukrainians fleeing a devastating and unprovoked Russian onslaught,” said Chris Purdy, director of Vets for American Ideals. “We have been heartened to see the efforts undertaken in recent weeks by the administration to provide urgently needed protection to Ukrainians. However, the tens of thousands of Afghans who were abandoned by the American government deserve the same level of support. If the Biden administration can create a Ukrainian parole program, surely it can honor its promise to those in Afghanistan.”

For months, Human Rights First has asked the Biden administration for a similarly needed special parole program for the Afghans left behind after the August 2021 evacuation. In February, over 200 human rights, faith, legal and social services organizations wrote to Secretary Mayorkas to make this request.  The Department’s recent response to that request fell woefully short. Nearly 90% of our Afghan allies eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa program were not included in the Non-combatant Evacuation Operation which ended on August 31, 2021. An additional 40,000 Afghans were encouraged to apply for Humanitarian Parole, of which a tiny fraction of applications have been adjudicated.

“Just as exempting solely Ukrainians from Title 42 made clear the lack of a public health justification for that policy and further exposed the disparate treatment of Black and brown asylum-seekers at our border, the creation of a special parole program for Ukrainians without taking similar steps for Afghans would be gravely disappointing,” said Robyn Barnard, senior advocacy counsel for Refugee Protection.  “The Biden administration must take urgent steps now, such as creating an Afghan parole program and generously approving parole requests for Afghans, to protect and bring at-risk Afghans to safety who cannot wait for the U.S. resettlement program to be rebuilt.”

Human Rights First stands by the fact that President Biden must do more to honor America’s promise. The tens of thousands of Afghans who were left behind due to the botched evacuation must be given the same opportunity that is afforded to European refugees. Without similar bold action, then the U.S. will have laid bare that its immigration system is based on a racially inequitable view of who is deserving of protection and who is not.

Human Rights First urges the United States to ensure that U.S. refugee protection, including access to asylum at its own borders, is provided to all refugees without discrimination due to race, religion, or nationality.


Published on April 12, 2022


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