Afghan evacuees fail to pass initial screening Kosovo-bound

Kosovo, an ardent U.S. ally has offered to accept Afghan evacuees that fail to clear initial screenings and host them up to a full year. This is in response to one of the security issues of the chaotic U.S. evacuation of Kabul Airport.

Afghan evacuees fail to pass initial screening Kosovo-bound

Refugee advocates are likely to object to the U.S. plan. They already complain about a lack in public disclosure and unclear legal jurisdiction regarding the use of overseas screening stations by the Biden administration. These overseas transit sites, which were quickly established between Aug. 15-31, are still in operation at full speed and verify eligibility. They also look for security concerns among thousands of Afghans as well as smaller numbers of Americans who flew out of Taliban-held Afghanistan.

Under anonymity, the U.S. official spoke with the Associated Press to discuss the plan. This was the first time that the U.S. has made public its plans for Afghans and other evacuees, who failed to clear the initial screening rounds or whose cases require additional processing.

In a statement released later Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo stressed that this arrangement does not mean Kosovo is taking in refugees who have been deemed ineligible to enter the United States. The embassy statement stated that some applicants were still in the process to obtain the documents they needed and provide all the information required under U.S law to be eligible for immediate entry.

The Biden administration has resisted the pleas of some veterans groups and refugee organizations to allow former Afghan allies and others most at risk to being targeted by the Taliban to American soil for security screening and processing.

For fear of being stuck with American security issues, several other countries refused to temporarily host the United States' Afghan evacuees. All of this presented significant obstacles to U.S. preparations to evacuate vulnerable Afghans. This was even before Kabul fell under the Taliban on August 15.

The Taliban's lightning conquest of Afghanistan set off the chaotic U.S.-military airlift out of the Kabul airport.

Within days of the Taliban overthrow, thousands of U.S. soldiers, diplomats, and border workers mobilized, along with volunteers, to screen, process, and care for evacuees at more that a dozen U.S. military bases, airfields, and naval stations in Europe and Asia. At many transit points, officials and volunteers gave toys and stuffed animals to children arriving and set up play areas.

The mobilization had two goals: to expedite the passage of deserving evacuees to the United States and to stop security risks and potential security threats among evacuees and other evacuees not eligible for relocation to the United States before they even set foot on American soil.

Biden administration's evacuation efforts are criticized by refugee groups as being too slow and poorly planned. The hastiness of the airlifts after Kabul fell has led to a minority of people among the evacuees getting thousands of miles from the Kabul airport before Americans detected problems, including some evacuees with security issues.

One instance was when a red flag appeared on the case of an evacuee while he was in mid-flight between two overseas transit sites. Another U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss processing. The U.S. has a limited number of cases where other evacuees need to be investigated or who lie or destroy their identity in order to qualify for immigration.

Official said that some of those who made it through the crowds and Taliban control at the airport were able to board planes and make their way to transit sites without being eligible for U.S. relocation.

The vast majority of Afghan evacuees can complete processing within a matter days at large transit stations that U.S. employees quickly set up at military bases in Qatar and Germany, as well as smaller sites throughout the country. These evacuees fly to the United States via Philadelphia or Washington Dulles airports.

Other U.S. officials stated that they expect all Afghans, regardless of their initial red flags or questions, to be cleared for further screening.

Eligible Afghans include those who worked for the U.S. government, or women's advocates, journalists or others vulnerable because of their role in Afghan civil society.

According to the U.S. official, the Kosovo plan was disclosed by the US because the transit centers provide a safe space for "different groups... to complete their paperwork while they undergo security screenings before they continue on to their final destination in America or in another country."

According to a U.S. official, the U.S. will use Bondsteel, a military camp that houses the U.S. Army near the capital of Kosovo, for further screening and processing of evacuees destined for resettlement in the United States. The U.S. will temporarily house evacuees headed for NATO countries at a site that used to house road crews.

Each country, Italy and Germany, have established time limits of two weeks to allow the U.S. to process any evacuee who has been on their soil for more than one week.

Kosovo regards itself as a close ally to the United States, since the U.S. led a NATO air campaign against Serbian forces that brutalized Kosovo civilians in 1999. Two Afghan evacuee locations are located along a highway named for Beau Biden, President Joe Biden's son who trained local judges and prosecutors following the Kosovo war.

The leaders of Kosovo have offered to allow evacuees to stay for one year with the possibility of extension. The airport was attended by the prime minister of Kosovo and other officials to welcome the first Afghan refugees.

Although the constitution of Kosovo establishes it to be a secular state, the majority of Kosovo's population is Muslim. A substantial number of Orthodox Christian Serbs reside in Kosovo.

According to refugee organizations, the U.S. has not been transparent or efficient in treating evacuees at international transit centers.

"There is just a staggering lack in transparency from the administration about how is it happening, who is there,... who to call if there are problems" for evacuees from the sites, stated Adam Bates, an attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project. This is the U.S. refugee agency that works with Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

He spoke in front of the Biden administration, which revealed its plans for the Kosovo site.

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