Afghans Unable To Reach Flights As Taliban Takes Over and U.S. Does Little To Help

(SEATTLE, WA, 8/20/21) — CAIR Washington, the Washington state Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), is working with a group of local immigration advocates, attorneys, and Afghans to help get as many eligible people as possible out of Afghanistan as the country falls into chaos. Contrary to what is being reported by the U.S. government, no persons who CAIR Washington or other advocates are working with have been able to reach the airport and board flights out of the country.

Brianna Auffray, Legal and Policy Director at CAIR Washington, has assembled a makeshift network of attorneys, aid workers, and veterans as she and others scramble to get U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, their spouses and minor children, and others onto flights. Auffray is personally working with 38 people on the ground in Afghanistan – a third of whom are children under the age of 12 – trying to get them safely to the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Taliban claims they are not stopping foreign nationals from accessing the airport. Auffray says this is not true.

“The situation on the ground is not what is being reported,” said Auffray. “There are thousands of people crowded around the airport and our people cannot get through due to the crowds and Taliban checkpoints. If people are getting onto flights as the U.S. military claims, we have not seen it.”

The U.S. Military and Embassy are reporting the airport is fully secure and that they’re getting 500-600 people out per hour. Auffray says this is misleading as U.S. forces have control of one side of the airport and the Taliban the other side. And the Taliban is not letting people through.

Individuals who Auffray is trying to evacuate told her the situation is impossible.

“The airport was absolute chaos,” one man who is trying to escape with his family of 11 told her. “We couldn’t get anywhere to show our paperwork to anyone, it was super crowded and chaotic. There were Taliban pushing people away and not letting anyone through, even with a U.S. passport.”

A volunteer attorney with a U.S. refugee advocacy organization who is working with Auffray received a bleak message from their counterparts on the ground: “The situation changes hourly,” the person wrote in an email. “We are receiving reports of abuses by all sides, beatings by Taliban, tear gas used by the military, etc. It is crowded. The entrance on [redacted here for security] is staffed by U.S. military but it is very packed.”

To make matters worse, the U.S. Embassy is offering zero assistance to families scrambling to get out. The most recent guidance from the embassy in Kabul is bleak: “U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), and their spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) should consider travelling to Hamid Karzai International Airport when you judge it is safe to do so. The U.S. government cannot ensure safe passage to the airport.”

The embassy is not providing updated checkpoints, maps, contact information, or other information that people on the ground need in order to reach the airport safely. Auffray sent a tweet late Wednesday night asking for anyone with information about the current situation on the ground to share it with her and the other attorneys. People began messaging her with hand-drawn maps, laid over Google Maps, showing the location of current checkpoints and best routes. Auffray and the other attorneys are compiling this information, updating it as new information comes in, and sharing it with one another and those on the ground.

In addition to the treacherous journey to the airport, anyone requesting evacuation by the U.S. government is being required to sign a promissory note promising to repay the U.S. government $2,000 per family member for the cost of the flight and security. Most families can’t afford the repatriation fee and many are afraid to sign these notes. Auffray said one of her families almost didn’t proceed when they found out about the promissory note – fearing they wouldn’t be able to repay it and would face deportation once in the U.S. (There are reports that the State Department has retracted the requirement but CAIR Washington hasn’t received confirmation yet.)

Another challenge facing potential evacuees is the strict limit on what they can bring with them. People boarding flights are only allowed one small bag weighing no more than 33 pounds.

“We knew the situation was devolving quickly and that there was this group of vulnerable people who were going to need help getting out,” said Imraan Siddiqi, Executive Director at CAIR Washington. “And now they are having to pay out of their own pocket to try to get to safety. The American taxpayers paid trillions of dollars for this endless war. And yet we’re seeing those who are most vulnerable at the end of this conflict on the hook for potentially thousands of dollars they may not have.”

There are currently tens of thousands of eligible people trying to get out of Afghanistan with no clear pathway to the airport. Most of the people CAIR Washington and others are trying to help board flights out of the country are United States citizens, lawful permanent residents, special immigrant visa holders, and those with immediate family in the U.S. Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy said it was stopping the processing of new visa applications.

“So we have folks who are eligible for evacuation by the U.S. government, who have a spot on a repatriation flight, but who can’t get to the airport,” said Auffray. “It’s really disheartening. And then there are all the people who don’t currently qualify for repatriation who are begging to get out. There’s just no top-down coordination happening and the overwhelming feeling on the ground is one of fear and chaos.”


CAIR Washington has created an “Afghanistan Evacuation Inquiry Form” for those seeking help. Auffray cautions people that help may take a while and asks them to be patient: “We are receiving a tremendous number of requests and have limited capacity,” Auffray said. “We will be in touch with each inquirer as soon as possible. Our prayers are with you and your families and we will do everything we can to help.”


CAIR Washington is urging the Biden Administration to raise the annual cap on refugee admissions into the U.S., to assist eligible Afghans trying to evacuate Afghanistan, and to extend protections for Afghan refugees residing in the U.S.



***For the most up-to-date information from CAIR Washington about what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan and the Hamid Karzai International Airport, follow CAIR-WA Legal and Policy Manger Brianna Auffray’s thread on Twitter:

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MEDIA CONTACT: Jessica Schreindl, CAIR-WA Media Manager, 208-290-0500 (text OK)

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

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.