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US speeds up visas for vulnerable Afghans

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(Last Updated On: June 16, 2021)

As the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan in the coming weeks, the Biden administration says it is adding staff to hurry up the visa process for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and want to flee to avoid Taliban reprisals, Reuters reported.

Afghans who worked for the United States during America’s longest war fear the insurgency will target them and their families, retribution for helping foreign forces, Reuters reported.

With the final pullout expected as early as mid-July, there appears to be a mismatch between the expectations of refugee advocates and what the Biden administration says is realistic given the legal and practical requirements to process special immigrant visas.

The administration says it has already doubled the number of staff processing cases in Kabul and tripled personnel reviewing petitions at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

It also plans a five-fold increase in the number of staff in the State Department working on the visas in Washington, a senior administration official told Reuters.

“All of these changes have resulted in, over the last couple of months, the largest number of cases processed in the history of the program in any 60-day period,” the official said, speaking about the plans on condition of anonymity.

The plan is to process at least 1,000-1,400 visa applications for Afghans who worked for the United States, not including their families, every month. By contrast, the U.S. government says, it issued only 237 such visas in the last three months of 2020.

But even with the new effort, the administration says there’s a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process can move without changes to legislation. If all goes well, a visa could be processed in nine to 12 months, Reuters reported.

The administration supports legislation in Congress that would allow Afghans to do a medical check upon arriving in the United States, instead of in Afghanistan. It is also supports legislation eliminating the requirement for a specific petition at the Department of Homeland Security.

“That would be another two months that we could shave off,” the first official said.

But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas are becoming increasingly concerned.

Senator Patrick Leahy, recalling the chaos in Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975 when he was a junior senator, said the matter was urgent.

“They’re going to have a target on their back,” Leahy said.

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Thousands take exams for Turkish-run schools in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: November 26, 2021)

Thousands of Afghan students, including girls under grade 7, took entrance exams on Friday for a Turkish foundation in Kabul that runs some of Afghanistan’s most highly regarded schools.

As many as 3,600 students sat the highly competitive exams for the Afghan-Turk school system, Afghan-Turk School’s officials said.

“We want all girls to be educated. This is our president’s and our government’s wish and that of Afghans,” the Educational Councillor at Kabul’s Turkish Embassy, Changez Idmir, said at a news conference to mark the holding of the entrance tests.

Facing mounting global pressure, the IEA has said they will allow older girls to resume classes once arrangements are made to ensure they can do so in conformity with what the movement considers proper Islamic standards.

Afghan-Turk schools are regarded among the top schools in Afghanistan and admission is highly competitive.

Unofficially, many parts of the country have seen older girls restart classes, while officially the IEA says they are still working on a national system.

Ehsan Khateb, Head of Kabul Education Department, also attended the ceremony and thanked the Turkish government.

Afghan-Turk schools have had to make changes to their curriculum, shutting music, theatre, and dance departments at the request of IEA officials, the head of the Turkish educational foundation, Salleh Saghar, told Reuters.

The foundation respected the rules and culture of the host country, he said.

“Like the music, theatre, and dancing department … based on Taliban (IEA) requests we closed the departments,” he said, and it was for the IEA government to decide if they would reopen.

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Afghan humanitarian crisis, drug trafficking alarm India, Russia, China

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(Last Updated On: November 26, 2021)

The foreign ministers of India, Russia and China expressed concern on Friday at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and the spread of drug trafficking in the country.

Afghanistan has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign assistance, following the collapse of the Western-backed government and return to power of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) in August.

“Expressing concern over deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the Ministers called for immediate and unhindered humanitarian assistance to be provided to Afghanistan,” said a joint statement released following a virtual meeting between India’s S Jaishankar, Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and China’s Wang Yi.

The three countries also pledged to do more to combat drug smuggling in the region.

“The spread of illicit drug trafficking in opiates and methamphetamine from Afghanistan and beyond… poses a serious threat to regional security and stability and provides funding for terrorist organizations,” the statement added.

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Kabul hospitals receive more children suffering from malnutrition

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(Last Updated On: November 26, 2021)

Hospitals in Kabul are receiving more child patients suffering from malnutrition, as the humanitarian crisis worsens in the country amid conflicts and economic collapse.

About 20 children, many below five years old, are currently receiving treatment in the Kabul Children’s Hospital, one of the children’s medical centers in the city offering free medical services for Afghan people.

The hospital has opened a special area for the treatment of malnutrition as the number of malnourished child patients keeps increasing.

Three wards are full of children with pale faces and dull eyes. Some of them are relying on oxygen to maintain the faint breath, and others look puffy and swollen as they suffer oedema caused by severe deficiency of protein and other nutriment.

“Most of the malnourished patients here come from the countryside. As it starts to snow and the weather becomes cold, it will be difficult for them to go to the clinic or come here for treatment. The number of malnourished patients is likely to increase,” said Latif Baher, director of the hospital.

In an interview with China Central Television, Latif said the hospital is being expanded to receive more malnourished child patients. A special building will be established to accommodate about 100 malnourished children.

Latif said prolonged conflicts and the poor living environment have resulted in the malnutrition among people.

“Afghans are living in a bad situation. The adults in the family cannot get enough food, and they cannot provide enough nutrition such as protein or carbohydrates to their children,” he said.

Without reliable access to water, food and basic health and nutrition services, Afghan children and their families are bearing the brunt of years of conflict and the current economic crisis, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The fund reported last month that about 14 million people in Afghanistan are facing acute food insecurity, and an estimated 3.2 million children under the age of five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. At least 1 million of these children are at risk of dying due to severe acute malnutrition without immediate treatment.

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