Turkey’s New Refugee Challenge

August 4, 2021

In my last post, dated August 2, I said that the increasing number of Afghans crossing into Turkey from Iran leads one to question whether the Kabul subcontract is just about the airport or more.

Later in the day, Secretary Blinken in remarks to the press[i], announced the “US Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals[ii], a new resettlement opportunity for Afghans who assisted the US, but do dot qualify for Special Immigrant Visas (SIV).

The Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program was created by the Congress to provide protection to Afghans affiliated with US missions such as translators and interpreters. Those eligible can apply for a visa for themselves, as well as for their spouse and any unmarried children under 21. The program requires applicants who submit applications to have been employed for a minimum of two years.

The new “Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP)” is designed for Afghans who are not eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) because they did not have qualifying employment, or because they have not met the time-in-service requirement to become eligible. In other words, individuals eligible for the P-2 Program are:

  • Afghans who do not meet the minimum time-in-service for a SIV but who work or worked as employees of contractors, locally employed staff, interpreters/translators for the U.S. Government, United States Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), or Resolute Support;
  • Afghans who work or worked for a US government-funded program or project in Afghanistan supported through a US government grant or cooperative agreement; and,
  • Afghans who are or were employed in Afghanistan by a US-based media organization or non-governmental organization.

In a critical remark regarding the P-2 program, Secretary Blinken said, “Now, to be clear, you have to do that from outside of Afghanistan, from a third country…”

Refugee Processing Center (RPC) which is operated by the Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) states the following under the P-2 Program:

  • “There is no resettlement processing in Afghanistan and certain neighboring countries such as Iran. If/when Principal Applicants and their families make the difficult choice to leave Afghanistan, they will need to arrange and pay for their own travel to a third country.
  • “Once they have arrived in a third country, the Principal Applicant must contact the U.S. Department of State to begin processing their case. Case processing can be lengthy (potentially 12-14 months), so please ensure they are aware this process could require living in and supporting themselves in a third country for a substantial amount of time until case processing is complete.
  • “Even if an individual qualifies for the Priority 2 program and travels outside of Afghanistan, there is no guarantee that they will be approved for resettlement to the United States. In particular, applicants must pass extensive security checks.
  • “The United States is unable to provide protection or support to individuals while they await a decision on their refugee case. Those who leave Afghanistan can register for international protection and assistance as a refugee with the government of the country they are in, if the country has an established asylum process; or, they can register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)”[iii]

Secretary Blinken was asked the following question:

“If I may follow up on my colleague here from Afghanistan, how do these people under the P-1 program even get to third countries?  You’re asking that Turkey and other neighboring countries – Iran – open their borders.  How can they get from here to there past Taliban checkpoints?  They’ve got targets on their backs.”

In his response, among other things, he said:

“We are also dedicating very significant assistance, humanitarian assistance, not only in Afghanistan itself, but to neighboring countries to enable them to support those who come to their countries, again, seeking potentially, refugee status somewhere or immigrant status somewhere.

“So that support, I think, makes it a little bit easier.  But I don’t want to deny the challenge and the difficulty.  It is indeed a hard thing…” 

After Secretary Blinken left, Ned Price, State Department Spokesman continued with the discussion.[iv] He had a much tougher time with questions and comments from the press. After all, being the spokesperson for a foreign office is indeed a tough job. The first question/comment was the following:

“… The Secretary talked about how this is a gesture of friendship and generosity from the United States to this new – this group of people who are now going to have P-2 status or eligible to apply for P-2 status. But isn’t it a kind of a hollow gesture if they have to leave the country at their own expense and at their own – on their – that they don’t any support in leaving the country and then have to – and then have to find a way to make ends meet for 12 to 14 months once they get to a third country, without any assistance from you guys at all? Don’t you think that significantly reduces the number of people who are going to be able to take advantage of this? Which I understand is done at your – it’s well-meaning, but I don’t – frankly, I just don’t see how it’s going to make much of a – much of an impact.”

Mr. Price said that the Afghans do, in fact, need to be outside of the country in order for this processing to take place. “And just to put it very simply, that is due to the security situation in Afghanistan and the lack of resettlement infrastructure, including personnel in place in the country, which is why Afghans eligible and referred to the P-2 program must be outside Afghanistan…” he added.

He also tried hard to underline that the US was doing the maximum to help. He stressed that the US is the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Echoing the Secretary he said, “Additionally, we’re pursuing third-country agreements, so eligible Afghans can be quickly relocated to wait safely in another country while we finish the elements of  rigorous vetting process.”

In the light of the foregoing, I am inclined to believe that there is a refugee dimension to the Kabul airport subcontract. Because Washington is not only claiming to open a second path to Afghan immigration, but it is also saying that one cannot embark on this Sisyphean path for P-2 status from Afghanistan or Iran, that they must go to a third country, make an application, and wait there for a process which might tale 12 to 14 months with no guarantee of a favorable outcome. Washington is also stating that it is pursuing third-country agreements, so eligible Afghans can be quickly relocated to wait safely in another country.

So, we the people of Turkey are more than entitled to ask our government if there is an agreement with Washington on the opening of our borders to Afghan refugees. Are we among those the US is pursuing third-country agreements? If so, what is the reasoning? If not, what are we doing to protect our borders?

We are entitled to ask these question not because we are indifferent to the plight of the Afghans. We have already done a lot for them and should continue to do more. We appreciate that Pakistan  has been home to three million Afghan refugees since the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. And we also know that for Afghans seeking P-2 status, reaching Turkey through Iran is a safer option in view of Taliban’s countrywide advance. But, as President Biden said on June 8, “It’s up to Afghans to make the decision about the future of their country.”

With our current refugee numbers including five million Syrians, tens of thousands of refugees now coming from Afghanistan will constitute an existential threat to our population composition, unity, culture, our way of life, and the achievements of the past century. This will turn Turkey into a no man’s land, it will undermine our political and economic progress for decades. The government must resist whatever pressure to pay the price for America’s and West’s failure in Afghanistan. We are already paying a very high price for the ruling Justice and Development Party government’s misguided intervention in Syria and cannot do more.  Everything has a limit. And Washington must realize that pressuring Ankara to open its borders to new waves of Afghan refugees could prove the last straw and stop many “on my side of the aisle” from speaking up for an honorable upgrading of our relationship of alliance which, despite ups and downs, has endured for seven decades.

—————————————————————————————————————

[i] https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-remarks-to-the-press-on-the-announcement-of-a-u-s-refugee-admissions-program-priority-2-designation-for-afghan-nationals/

[ii] https://www.state.gov/u-s-refugee-admissions-program-priority-2-designation-for-afghan-nationals/

[iii] https://www.wrapsnet.org/documents/Instructions%20%20for%20U.S.-Based%20Media%20&%20U.S.-Based%20NGOs%20Afghan%20P2%20Referrals.pdf

[iv] https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-august-2-2021/

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