Afghan Refugee Crisis: "We're In It for the Long Haul"

By Sharon Samber,


HIAS President & CEO Mark Hetfield discusses the crisis in Afghanistan and what to expect as evacuees start to arrive in the U.S. during a briefing call, August 23, 2021.​

Many people may feel practically paralyzed as they watch the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, but HIAS is moving fast.

HIAS staff have traveled to United States military bases to help process those Afghans who made it out of Kabul. HIAS affiliates across the U.S. are getting ready to receive or are already receiving Afghan refugees and ramping up their services.

The priority is, of course, to get people out of Afghanistan safely, HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield said on a public briefing call Monday afternoon. Hetfield, though, made sure to emphasize that HIAS is in for the long haul.

“This is an immediate crisis but it’s not going to have an immediate solution,” Hetfield said. 

Many logistical questions remain unanswered. Afghans need to be screened but they cannot be screened in the very country where they face persecution. Thousands of Afghans who, by virtue of working for the U.S. qualify for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), are faced with a daunting  series of obstacles. The SIV application consists of 14 steps — a complicated and confusing process that has contributed to the backlog of applications.

How to get help to Afghan families was addressed during the call, but of course the situation is fluid. Many Afghans in the U.S. who left their families behind are in a state of confusion and emotional trauma as they try to find out what is happening to their loved ones. Some who have continued to financially support their families have no way to get money to their family members as the Taliban takeover has disrupted banking.

“It’s not only Afghans there in crisis, it’s the Afghan diaspora as well,” said Yalda Afif, an Afghan program manager at HIAS who fled her home country 10 years ago. Afif has for weeks been hearing from clients who cannot get in touch with family members and who fear for the future of Afghan society.

“We were all waiting for a better future for Afghanistan, but all those dreams were shattered within seconds,” Afif said.

There is now a significant scaling up of public private partnerships, Hetfield noted, and resettlement agencies need volunteers, donations, and all around support.

Visit HIAS’ Crisis in Afghanistan: How You Can Help page.

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