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As Seattle Refugee Agency scrambles to evacuate family members from Afghanistan, Washington Senators call on Biden to do more

By on September 30, 2021 0

The text messages, received in recent days by a Seattle-area refugee resettlement agency, are becoming increasingly desperate.

As the US withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan progresses – fewer than 100 US citizens remain in the country, according to the State Department – there are still thousands stranded in the country who have helped or worked for U.S. forces and organizations over the years. and now fear for their safety.

The Jewish Family Service of Seattle, a refugee resettlement agency, says it is still trying to evacuate around 160 people from the country – agency clients or family members of agency staff.

“If they notice that you are working with an organization based in the United States, they will beat you,” said a text message recently received by JFS staff. “To stay safe, I try to change my position every two days.”

“I can’t stop the tears, the world has forgotten us,” said another. “Before the United States does anything, we will already be in the grave… I hope they don’t touch my family.

The agency and the two U.S. senators in Washington have called on the Biden administration to do more to facilitate the evacuations of green card and visa holders and others who have helped U.S. organizations over the years and find themselves now threatened by the Taliban.

Senses Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, along with 11 fellow Democrats, wrote to Biden this week asking him to create two new positions, one in the President’s Executive Office and one in the State Department, responsible to lead the ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. .

“There must be dedicated and comprehensive leadership at the highest level of administration,” wrote the senators. “Saving Americans is a floor, not a ceiling. Focusing on evacuating Americans – to the exclusion of others we have promised to get out – is unacceptable. “

Cantwell said his office alone had 1,800 open cases of people in Afghanistan they were trying to help.

“To get them through safely, we have to know we have someone,” Cantwell said Wednesday. “We need an envoy or something.”

Among the questions she said she asked were “who is specifically in charge” of the ongoing evacuation efforts.

This issue, as honorable senators acknowledge in their letter, is complicated by the fact that the United States no longer has an embassy or official presence in Afghanistan.

“What we need to have is someone who sits on the National Security Council who is appointed by the White House, by President Biden, specifically to focus on this evacuation effort, because he cannot s ‘just acting out of lip service,’ said Rabbi Will Berkovitz. , CEO of JFS Seattle.

JFS is one of a handful of local resettlement agencies that work with Afghan refugees. They help families who arrive to find housing, to obtain furniture and food, to enroll in school and to find employment. To do this, they have, over the years, hired Afghan immigrants who speak the language and can help newcomers adjust to an unfamiliar society and culture.

But these employees, in turn, often have families still in Afghanistan, who are struggling to get out on their own.

JFS says it has around 160 clients or family members of staff still in Afghanistan and 173 currently stranded in other countries, between Afghanistan and the United States.

“They are trying to get their families out while simultaneously resettling others who have come out,” Berkovitz said of JFS staff. “They set up apartments, help the children go to school… while knowing and listening to the family who are in hiding day after day, strapped for money and scared.

Or, as another text message from Afghanistan recently received by JFS staff put it: “My family is my mother, sister and children and we are all in immediate danger because of my work. If anything happened to them, I could never forgive myself. My request to the US government is therefore to evacuate my family with me, not just myself.

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