Local Civil Rights Organization Struggles to Get Afghans Aboard Flights as Violence Escalates, Deadline Looms

(SEATTLE, WA, 8/25/21) — CAIR Washington, the Washington state Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is joining humanitarian and civil rights advocates across the country demanding that President Biden make good on his promise to evacuate all eligible* persons before withdrawing U.S. troops. The Seattle-based Muslim civil rights organization has received hundreds of requests for help in the last week from Americans with families in Afghanistan, people in Afghanistan with Washington ties, and others who are scared that they or their families will be left behind.

“It’s been absolutely overwhelming and deeply disheartening,” said Brianna Auffray, Legal and Policy Manager at CAIR Washington. “Out of the hundreds of people we’re actively working with, we’ve only been able to get one family aboard a flight.”

Auffray said it’s been almost impossible for her people to get to the airport due to large crowds, Taliban checkpoints, and threats of violence coming from local Taliban and ISIS.

Ahmed Ismail**, an Afghan who’s been waiting for his special immigrant visa (SIV) to be approved who reached out to CAIR Washington, said he is scared he isn’t going to make it before the looming August 31st withdrawal deadline.

“I am beginning to lose hope,” Ismail said in a phone call with CAIR Washington staff. “No one can get to the airport and there are tens of thousands of us waiting.”

Ismail says he fled his hometown of Herat last week when the local Taliban came looking for him – leaving his wife, who is 29 weeks pregnant with their first child, behind. According to Ismail, Taliban members had been threatening him for years because he worked on multiple USAID projects in Afghanistan. Like dozens of others who reached out to CAIR Washington in the last week, his life is now being threatened.

“When the city fell to the Taliban, I knew they would come for me,” Ismail said. “One day, my doorbell rang, and my sister looked outside. She told me it was the Taliban who knew me and told me to hide. I escaped through our back door and hid in my neighbor’s backyard.”

Ismail sent CAIR Washington video that his sister took of what are reportedly local Taliban members searching his neighborhood, looking for him. He doesn’t want the videos published for fear they will identify his family’s home and they will be in danger.

A former U.S. combat soldier who served in Afghanistan who later provided security for the U.S. State Department and now lives in Seattle, said he too is concerned about those with special status getting out in time.

“My big fear is that we weren’t prepared at all and that we will not have evacuations complete by Sept 1st, whereby we end up leaving tens of thousands of Afghans behind,” Seattle veteran Jason Rich said in a private message he sent to CAIR Washington Legal and Policy Director Brianna Auffray. “That’s what concerns me the most right now. My State Department buddies are saying they cannot personally help, which is also upsetting.”

Rich said he’s afraid the State Department is going to work to get U.S. citizens out while leaving everyone else behind – people like the Afghan interpreter he worked closely with, Omar Masoud***, who’s in hiding from Taliban members. According to Rich, Masoud’s younger brother was badly beaten and burned by local members of the Taliban last week after they came looking for Masoud. He survived and is in hiding in Afghanistan. Rich sent CAIR Washington multiple photos taken of the brother after the violent attack.

PICTURE: Little Brother of Afghan Interpreter Badly Beaten, Burned by Local Taliban (CONTENT WARNING, GRAPHIC IMAGERY)

CAIR Washington has been overwhelmed by requests coming in from Afghans and those trying to help them evacuate. So far, the Seattle-based civil rights and advocacy organization has only been able to get one out of the hundreds of families it’s working with aboard a flight out of Kabul.

“We have been in touch with countless vulnerable individuals and families who’ve recounted their harrowing experiences and detailed how chaotic the situation is right now,” said Brianna Auffray, Legal and Policy Manger at CAIR Washington. “While Taliban leadership is making statements about amnesty and reconciliation, the facts on the ground state otherwise. There are widespread reports of brutality, threats of violence, and retribution taking place. We’ve had clients shot at and beaten while trying to access the Hamid Karzai Airport.”

CAIR Washington is asking the Biden Administration to create a clear evacuation plan for everyone who is eligible – U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and the tens of thousands of special immigrant visa (SIV) holders and applicants like Ahmed and Omar – and to evacuate all eligible persons before withdrawing.

In addition, they are pushing the Biden Administration to create a “humanitarian corridor” for Afghans who don’t have special status but who could qualify for refugee status. These are the people most at-risk – the women’s rights activists, journalists, religious and ethnic minorities, and others who are at risk of being harmed.

“The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has spanned two-decades, said CAIR Washington Executive Director Imraan Siddiqi. “As the U.S. military exits this country, it presents a potential human-rights catastrophe if vulnerable groups are not given a pathway to evacuation. While the Biden administration attempts to honor its timeline for withdrawal, it must not forget about the human cost for those who are potentially being left behind. Not only U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – but mixed status families must receive expedited consideration – because as we have seen all-too-recently in U.S. history, splitting up families is traumatic and unconscionable.”

Siddiqi said it’s been heartbreaking for his team to have to tell clients who are U.S. citizens that their family members with green cards and pending visas are not currently allowed inside the airport gates.

“Our Legal Team has been forced to counsel them that this may be their only chance to evacuate, but it will require that they leave their families behind,” Siddiqi said. “It’s an impossible choice, and one many U.S. Citizens are unwilling to make.”

Without immediate action from the Biden administration, Siddiqi fears the only options are family separation or leaving U.S. Citizens behind.
CAIR Washington is currently organizing a legal clinic for Afghan-Americans and other Afghans with ties to the State of Washington who are trying to evacuate. They are recruiting lawyers and advocates from across the country to volunteer their time and expertise and will be providing training. Interested people can sign up here: bit.ly/cairwa_afghanvolunteer
*Eligible persons being U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents (LPRs), individuals who have already received special immigrant visas (SIVs) or who have approved SIV petitions, and the spouses and minor unmarried children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

**Name changed for security purposes

***Name changed for security purposes

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MEDIA CONTACT: Jessica Schreindl, CAIR-WA Media Manager, jschreindl@cair.com 208-290-0500 (text OK)


CAIR Washington Staff:

Imraan Siddiqi, CAIR-WA Executive Director and Brianna Auffray, Legal and Policy Manager at CAIR Washington

Impacted Persons:

Jason Rich, Seattle-based combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, and is trying to help Afghan interpreters evacuate

Ahmed Ismail, Afghan who worked for USAID hiding in Kabul from Taliban members, trying to evacuate on SIV (ONLY if identity can be protected)

CAIR’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. La misión de CAIR es mejorar la comprensión del Islam, proteger las libertades civiles, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.