Agency head: More than 100 CT residents stuck in Afghanistan
HARTFORD — As many as 200 Connecticut residents are stuck in Afghanistan, with Taliban troops swarming all over Kabul preventing them from reaching the safety of the airport, a refugee resettlement agency head and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy warned Tuesday.
Most are Afghan citizens who worked with U.S. forces and resettled over the last five years in Connecticut, many around New Haven, said Chris George, executive director of the New Havenbased nonprofit Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. They hold U.S. green cards and live here on a path to U.S. citizenship.
Many are women and children who traveled to Afghanistan for family visits or other events, believing they would be able to return home. Some of the young
children are U.S. citizens, having been born in Connecticut.
“I can’t tell you the anguish and the fear and also the guilt that Afghans living in Connecticut have in regard to their relatives who are left behind,” George said. “They’re being tracked down by the Taliban for the very fact that they are just here in this country, and that they might have driven a truck for the U.S. military, or did laundry at a military base, or served as an interpreter.”
George said his agency knows directly of 65 people, and he believes there are between 100 and 200 “who are trapped in Afghanistan,” among about 1,000 Afghan people resettled in Connecticut over the last several years.
“We need to get them out,” George said. “And if our military isn’t going to figure out a way to extract them, then we need to ask other governments to help out, or the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide safe convoys. That is the urgent life-anddeath before us right now.”
George estimated that as many as 600 Afghan refugees will come into Connecticut under several resettlement programs.
The two senators said they are involved in a variety of individual cases, from U.S. citizens and green card holders, to Afghan translators and security officials along with those who have already obtained special visas to enter the U.S., in attempt to airlift them from the country.
Blumenthal, during a noontime news conference on the steps of the state Capitol, said that 21,600 people were evacuated during the previous 24 hours, bringing the recent total to 58,000 airlifted. “There are thousands more American citizens, including potentially hundreds from Connecticut,” he said.
George, appearing with the two senators, said the flurry of texts, emails and phone calls over the last couple of weeks from emotional Afghans who have family overseas, indicate that Taliban troops are going door-to-door looking for people who were associated with the 20-year American presence.
“There’s no way they would have gone if there had been any thought that this would happen,” George said. “Like anyone else, they did not think Afghanistan would fall this quickly.”
A harrowing escape
Getting people to the airport safely is the main impediment, Murphy said. “Understandably, there are thousands of Afghans and U.S. citizens who are reluctant to leave their house and make their way to the airport.”
George said he spoke with one Connecticut resident about a harrowing escape. The man and his family were making their way to the airport in Kabul, and were in touch with U.S. soldiers.
“Troops sent a drone overhead, close enough to him, and then hit him with an infrared pointer and said, “Is that you?’ And he over the phone said ‘Yeah, this is me,’ and they sent troops out to get him and his family,” George said.
“The problem is, that is not very scalable,” he said.
“The numbers of evacuees are increasing by the day,” Murphy said. “Right now, the U.S. State Department and the Department of Defense are facilitating the evacuation of 10,000 individuals per day, but that’s not good enough. We make a commitment as a country to leave no one behind in a war zone. We have to make good on that commitment here.”
The CT Mirror reported Tuesday that Murphy, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Afghanistan. intends to convene congressional hearings on how the catastrophe happened, “how we spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, how we lost so many lives and were left with an Afghan government and an Afghan military that folded overnight.”
Preparing Connecticut for hundreds of refugees
The two senators are concerned about President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline for clearing the American military presence from the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
While Biden on Tuesday said he still has a hard deadline of next week to end the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, Murphy and Blumenthal insisted that that facts on the ground will likely justify an extension — and they believe the president has made contingencies for that to happen.
“Our priority has to be in getting everybody out,” Murphy said. “Arbitrary deadlines put on the United States by the Taliban should be of no relevance. Our mission should be to get our people out of there. If that means we have to go beyond Aug. 31, then we should do everything we need to in order to honor the commitment we have made.”
The senators asked Connecticut residents to prepare to help as many as 600 Afghans resettle in the state.
Murphy said recent immigrants from other countries in the Middle East are thriving here in civic and business life. “My hope is that Connecticut is going to open its arms wide again as Afghan families come here to Connecticut, especially those Afghans who worked with us,” Murphy said.
Blumenthal said the message to people with families who are isolated in Afghanistan, is that the United States wants to help.
“The focus right now is evacuating American citizens and our Afghan allies,” he said. “We have a moral imperative. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. The Afghan refugees and asylum seekers are our future doctors, nurses, scientists. Their children are the reason why we are so proud to be a nation of immigrants.”
IRIS is one a small handful of resettlement agencies in Connecticut, among them, Catholic Charities and the Bridgeport-based Connecticut Institute for Immigrants and Refugees. Even before the crisis in Afghanistan, George said Tuesday, “We told the State Department that IRIS would be prepared to resettle a total of 400.”
Now, that number is higher, he said.
“We will welcome them, provide housing, connect them to health care, enroll the kids in school, help them learn English, help them get jobs and integrate into the communities where we have resettled them,” George said, calling on local civic, religious and educational institutions to come forward and IRIS will place an Afghan family with them.
“There’s no better way for Americans to understand what’s going on around the world than to help a refugee family get off to a good start,” George said. “We need all the help we can get. And please do whatever you can to remind people in government, including these two senators behind me, that we cannot leave people behind in Afghanistan.”