Protecting Afghan Allies: 2021-2023

For over twenty years, Afghan human rights, civil society, and government leaders staked their lives, futures, and families on the international community’s efforts to build a rights-based democracy in their country. When that effort collapsed in August 2021, they faced deadly retribution from one of the world’s most repressive and brutal regimes. In response to this catastrophe, assisting our Afghan allies was beyond policy preferences – for many of us, it was and is central to our moral identity. With your support, for the past two years Human Rights First has played a leading role in evacuating, protecting, and supporting Afghan allies in the United States and abroad.

Following President Biden’s April 2021 announcement of the full withdrawal of the U.S. military from Afghanistan by September 11th of that year, Human Rights First sprang into action. Our Veterans for American Ideals program (VFAI) developed a detailed plan to evacuate Afghan allies to a U.S. territory and led the creation of the Evacuate Our Allies (EOA) coalition.  EOA has grown from three veteran-led groups to a 280-member working coalition of human rights, veterans, religious, national security, refugee, resettlement, and Afghan-American organizations that continue congressional and administrative advocacy, as well as public leadership, on issues around the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans.

Despite our efforts, the administration did not effectively plan for coordinating the withdrawal with American commitments to our allies, leading to a chaotic evacuation of Afghans by the U.S. military. Faced with a humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights First coordinated a response across the NGO and veteran communities, Congressional offices, the State Department, and key players inside Kabul’s international airport and elsewhere in Afghanistan. During the initial evacuation period, we led the compilation of lists of those in need of evacuation and worked directly to get individuals out of Afghanistan and resettled. In that time, Human Rights First documented and referred to the State Department for the evacuation of over 95,000 vulnerable individuals, and we estimate that we were directly responsible for more than 600 individuals reaching aircraft and flying to safety in the initial evacuations.

Project: Afghan Legal Assistance

The airlift phase of the evacuation made clear that Afghans faced additional obstacles once they left their country. Individuals evacuated by both the U.S. government and through private flights faced immediate legal and immigration challenges upon arrival at U.S. military installations.

To provide Afghan refugees arriving in the United States legal support, we launched Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA). Through coordination and collaboration with U.S.-based legal organizations, law firms, resettlement agencies, and other stakeholders, Human Rights First provides “light-touch mentorship” to volunteer attorneys whose work supports Afghans across the country.

When Afghans seeking resettlement were temporarily housed in “Safe Havens” at U.S. military bases, our staff visited nearly all of them to offer legal advice, provide training, assist with applications, and answer questions related to immigration status in the U.S.  Additionally, we have held multiple re-parole clinics to provide guidance on extending parole status, and pro se plus asylum clinics to provide resources on legal and non-legal resources that can help individuals advocate for themselves in court. PALA also mobilized a strong network of Dari and Pashto interpreters and translators to assist during all stages of legal representation.

We continue to partner with community organizations and resettlement agencies for Know Your Rights and Legal Orientation programs for Afghans and the legal service providers who help them. Often in partnership with other organizations focused on Afghan issues, we provide regular online training and written training materials for volunteer lawyers, community-based organizations, and legal service providers. To provide specific materials and trainings for serving the Afghan resettlement community, we built and host an online Resource Library that contains links to webinars, sample briefs and affidavits, country conditions, translation templates, relevant government guidance, and lists of experts on Afghanistan. Since 2021, PALA has directly served over 3,700 Afghans.

Direct Action

While the military’s evacuation of Afghanistan ended on August 31, 2021, Human Rights First and EOA continued to evacuate, welcome, and support the resettlement of as many vulnerable Afghans as possible. We established an around-the-clock Operations Center as a central resource for ongoing relocation information for every stage of the immigration process for stakeholders including civil society organizations, self-organized volunteer groups, other coalitions, and individuals. The Operations Center, now housed at Human Rights First, continues to provide critical support to Afghans still in Afghanistan and in the U.S., and coordinates resettlement NGOs and government agencies.

Policy and Advocacy

Nearly 76,000 Afghans arrived in the United States during and immediately following the evacuation.  They were granted humanitarian parole, a temporary, two-year immigration status that allows them to enter and work in the United States but is not permanent. With EOA and other allies, in September 2021 we advocated for and secured $1.68 billion for Afghans in a Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2022, a significant legislative victory.  In addition to funding, language in the C.R. ensured that these Afghans are eligible for refugee resettlement benefits.

The Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA), legislation that was informed by advocacy from Human Rights First and EOA, was introduced on bipartisan and bicameral bases in the last Congress. The AAA provides our Afghan allies a path to permanent residency in the relative safety of the United States. Additionally, AAA offers incentives to those with temporary parole status to undertake additional security vetting.

Despite the efforts of Human Rights First, EOA, and many other partners from labor to business and from veterans to refugee organizations, final negotiations left AAA out of the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.  With support from our advocacy, Congressional allies reintroduced the AAA in the current session, and we are now working to have it attached to the Senate version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) so it can move through conference committee and signed into law.

You Can Help

Human Rights First continues to lead our allies from veterans, refugees, labor, business, human rights, refugee, and Afghan-American communities to provide our Afghan allies with permanent safety in the United States. We train and otherwise support lawyers who work on individual cases so that Afghans can effectively navigate the immigration system.  We push the administration to keep its promises to asylum seekers and refugees.

As the situation evolves, your donation empowers us to push for lasting solutions, including the Afghan Adjustment Act, providing permanent safety. Join us in upholding our moral duty and standing up for our allies’ rights. Your support can make a life-saving difference.

Donate now to give directly to this initiative.


Published on August 15, 2023


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