Hundreds of Afghans Risk 11-country Trek to Seek Haven in United States

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Their journey begins with a humanitarian visa for Brazil: one of the few remaining exit routes for Afghans fleeing Taliban rule.

It ends, after a deadly trek overland by Latin America throughout at the very least 11 nations, with scaling the border wall and leaping onto U.S. soil.

More than a 12 months after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Kabul, the quantity of Afghans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to search asylum in the United States has soared.

Hundreds of folks every month are risking their lives to get there on a human smuggling route infamous for kidnapping, theft and assault.

U.S. border brokers apprehended 2,132 Afghans final 12 months – an in depth to 30-fold enhance over the prior 12 months – with almost half arriving in November and December, U.S. authorities knowledge present.

Reuters spoke to a dozen Afghans who braved the journey. Eleven stated they made it to the United States; Reuters has not been ready to affirm the whereabouts of one individual a reporter interviewed in Mexico. All stated they have been unable to begin new lives in Brazil and as an alternative headed north by land to the United States.

Several refugee advocates and former U.S. officers stated the growing quantity of Afghans trying the route mirrored a failure each to tackle the humanitarian disaster inside Afghanistan and to present satisfactory help for individuals who depart.

The United States has been sluggish to course of visas, they are saying, and along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)must be doing extra to assist different nations to help Afghan refugees.

“Just getting out of the country is hard. And then if you do, it doesn’t mean that you’ve reached safety,” stated Anne Richard, who served because the U.S. assistant secretary of state for inhabitants, refugees and migration from 2012 to 2017.

The State Department stated in response to Reuters questions that it has tried to velocity up visa processing for “the brave  Afghans who stood side-by-side with the United States over the past two decades” and that it has provided help to governments to keep away from “irregular migration.” It declined to touch upon particular person instances.

UNHCR stated the humanitarian Brazilian visa program, which presents two-years residency and the suitable to work, research and apply for refugee standing, is “an extremely important contribution” however stated shelters in the nation are “overwhelmed.”

The Brazilian authorities didn’t reply to requests for remark.

About 4,000 Afghans have entered Brazil on humanitarian visas for the reason that program started in Sept. 2021, the U.S. State Department stated, with a major uptick in the ultimate months of 2022.

Last 12 months, 2,200 Afghans crossed by the lawless jungle area between Colombia and Panama often called the Darien Gap – the one land route from South America towards the U.S. border – with almost half crossing in November and December. In all of 2021, simply 24 Afghans crossed, in accordance to Panamanian authorities knowledge.

The Taliban administration’s spokesperson didn’t reply to requests for remark concerning the escalating exodus. In current weeks, Taliban spokesmen have stated that Afghanistan is the “home of all Afghans” and that those that have left can come again.

Reuters centered on 4 journeys by Afghan migrants who reached the United States, corroborating key particulars of their accounts with emails, official paperwork, interviews with kinfolk and associates in addition to movies, photographs and voice memos despatched throughout their travels.

Here are their tales.

NINE DAYS IN SAO PAULO AIRPORT

When 25-year-old Ilyas Osmani landed in Sao Paulo on Oct. 2 after greater than 30 hours in transit from Tehran, he stated he informed an official at passport management that he was a refugee and requested for help.

The official merely shrugged, Osmani stated, and informed him he was free to go.

An activist who had spoken about girls’s rights a number of instances on Afghan tv, Osmani stated he feared he was in danger below the Taliban as a result of of his advocacy and his work as a basic supervisor for a logistics firm that was a subcontractor for U.S. armed forces.

At baggage declare, he referred to as an Afghan acquaintance who informed him to head to Terminal 2, the place he might discover different Afghans.

Once there, he stated, he put his title on a ready listing for shelter spots.

That first night time on the chilly tile flooring of the airport, Osmani stated he barely slept.

From a Tajik household in the northern metropolis of Mazar-i-Sharif, Osmani stated he had felt fortunate when he gained a U.S. immigration lottery in 2020 permitting him to apply for a “diversity” visa, designed for nationals of nations with low charges of immigration to the United States.

But precautions in the course of the COVID pandemic delayed visa processing, and the U.S. embassy in Kabul closed when the town fell to the Taliban in August 2021.

Next, Osmani contacted three extra U.S. embassies to request a visa interview.

The Islamabad embassy stated it had reached processing capability, acknowledging in a Nov. 2021 e mail to him “that it is currently very difficult for Afghans to obtain a visa to a third country” and that “many at risk are facing significant challenges fleeing to safety.”

The embassy in Doha stated it was solely conducting interviews for Qatari residents and residents whereas the embassy in Tashkent stated it was unable to course of Osmani’s case however offered no motive, in accordance to emails reviewed by Reuters.

Around the identical time, Osmani additionally utilized for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), a class for international nationals who labored with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, based mostly on his work with the U.S. contractor, in accordance to paperwork he shared. The utility continues to be pending.

About 90,000 Afghans are awaiting selections on their SIVs, in accordance to Congressional studies from fall 2022.

The State Department informed Reuters it has “surged resources” to the SIV program and reviewed “every stage of the cumbersome multiple step application process to streamline wherever possible.”

Osmani fled. In Afghanistan, “no one is safe who was fighting for gender equality,” he stated.

The Taliban says its administration respects girls’s rights in line with its interpretation of Islamic regulation and Afghan tradition.

With no rapid path to the United States, Osmani utilized for a humanitarian visa to Brazil on the finish of 2021, he stated, hoping to dwell in an enormous metropolis the place he’d discover a job that might enable him to help his dad and mom again dwelling.

After a few week on the airport, nonetheless with out a shelter spot, Osmani and two different Afghan males went out to see Sao Paulo. On the way in which again, they have been robbed at knifepoint, he stated. Reuters was unable to independently affirm particulars of the assault.

Osmani referred to as his father. “I can’t stay here,” he stated he informed him.

Osmani’s father put him in contact together with his former boss on the Afghan Ministry of Transport, Murtaza Ziwari. Murtaza and his spouse, Humaira, have been making ready to head to the U.S. with their youngsters.

The Ziwari household had arrived in Brazil on June 29 on humanitarian visas, passport stamps seen by Reuters confirmed. On Oct 12, they set out for Rio Branco, a distant metropolis on the border with Peru, the place Osmani joined them.

OVERLAND ACROSS A CONTINENT

“My mental state was not good,” she stated.

In Iran, the place the household stated they spent eight months ready for his or her Brazilian visas, Humaira had been distraught, weeping over photographs of weddings and household gatherings on her cellphone.

A 31-year-old homemaker, Humaira stated she had by no means imagined a life exterior Afghanistan. Murtaza, working in Herat province in accordance to identification paperwork shared with Reuters, stated he feared his job – which included overseeing civilian gasoline distribution to gasoline stations and to U.S.-aligned navy forces – would make him a goal.

Armed males had proven up at Murtaza’s household dwelling in Mazar-i-Sharif asking for him the day after the Taliban took the town in August 2021, in accordance to dwelling safety digital camera footage shared with Reuters.

The Taliban didn’t reply to requests for touch upon allegations of retaliation towards former Afghan authorities officers. They introduced a basic amnesty shortly after taking up and have pledged to examine particular person instances.

The Ziwaris fled to Iran overland, carrying one change of garments and a few cash from promoting Humaira’s jewellery.

In Sao Paulo, they bounced from the airport flooring to a church stockroom to a drafty NGO occasion area for months. Murtaza couldn’t discover work. The children suffered fixed colds.

So in mid-October, Murtaza stated, they took a bus to Rio Branco, earlier than making their approach by foot, bus and taxi by Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

At the Ecuador-Colombia border they stated they paid $80 to a smuggler to be shepherded throughout, solely to have him drop them off on the Colombian examine level the place officers needed to ship them again to Ecuador.

“The police were pulling us in one direction. The kids were screaming,” Humaira stated. Somehow the household managed to break free from the border guards and run.

Colombia’s migration authority didn’t reply to questions concerning the incident or concerning the remedy of Afghan migrants crossing by Colombia.

Soon the Ziwaris could be on the brink of a extra terrifying leg of the journey: the no-man’s-land between Colombia and Panama.

TREKKING PREGNANT THROUGH A JUNGLE

Nahida Nabizada had heard concerning the Darien Gap, a dense, lawless jungle that may solely be traversed by foot. She didn’t need to go.

The 29-year-old was almost two months pregnant, her second being pregnant after miscarrying at 5 months.

“I didn’t want to lose this child too,” she stated.

She thought: ‘What will happen if I start bleeding? There are no doctors; my parents aren’t there; there’s not sufficient meals. If I’m too sluggish, nobody will await me.’

A college graduate with a pc science diploma, Nahida felt unsafe when the Taliban took over.

An financial disaster has spiraled in the nation. More than half the inhabitants depends on humanitarian help.

Nahida and her husband Jamshid determined in late 2021 to depart.

While about 88,500 Afghans have been resettled in the United States for the reason that U.S. troop withdrawal, in accordance to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), hundreds extra have utilized to depart the nation.

From 51,000 purposes to enter the United States on an emergency foundation following the Taliban takeover, solely round 600 Afghans have been accredited, DHS stated.

After reaching Brazil in mid-2022, Nahida realized she was pregnant once more. Staying behind whereas her husband tried to attain the U.S. by himself might have meant years of separation.

So, in late 2022 they headed into the Darien the place, Nahida stated, “every step was filled with danger.” She fell a number of instances as they walked from dawn to nightfall, slipping on steep muddy paths and as soon as falling in a river.

The native information they employed for $150 left them on the primary day, halfway by a 12-hour trek, Jamshid stated.

On the third night time, a river overflowed and washed away their meals, flashlight, sleeping mats and different belongings. Nahida stated they survived on biscuits and dates, consuming river water.

Just a few days later, thieves armed with knives stole $200 in money from Jamshid, he stated.

When they emerged from the jungle, they have been met by Panamanian troopers who took them to a migrant camp. Soldiers routinely escort migrants to encampments to give them meals, water and garments and gather figuring out info.

In response to Reuters questions, the federal government stated: “Panama is the only country that provides care to all migrants who enter the country through Darien, so that they continue on their way to North America.”

After a brief keep in the camp, the Nabizadas took a bus to Costa Rica on their approach north by Central America in the direction of Mexico.

ON THE RUN FROM POLICE IN MEXICO

When Fazal Khalili, 25, climbed out of a smuggler’s boat on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico in October 2022, he had been at sea for greater than 12 hours.

“There was a lot of water inside our boat,” stated Khalili, who stated he boarded the vessel close to the border with Guatemala together with eight members of the family – together with his 87-year-old grandmother and 9-year-old-cousin – and greater than a dozen migrants from different nations.

From the boat, the migrants headed to a sprawling migrant camp in the southern state of Oaxaca, the place they slept in tents amid heavy rains, ready for Mexican authorities paperwork that might enable them to journey inside the nation, Khalili stated.

Born in Kunar province in northeastern Afghanistan, Khalili stated he did electrical work on a U.S. navy base. In Oct. 2021, he utilized for a SIV, however wasn’t assigned a case quantity till August 2022, visa utility paperwork present. By that point, he’d flown to Brazil.

It was early December by the point Khalili’s household purchased tickets on a business bus from Mexico City to Tijuana, snaking by some of the areas of Mexico thought of most harmful by the U.S. State Department as a result of of violent crime and kidnapping.

In Sinaloa state, he recounted, a person in a balaclava with a gun hooked to his belt boarded the bus and demanded cash whereas one other man in what appeared to be a police uniform appeared on. Khalili stated the boys obtained off the bus after his household paid the masked man 34,000 pesos ($1,700).

Khalili recorded a video of the incident which he shared with Reuters quickly after it occurred. Reuters couldn’t affirm the cost.

In the border state of Sonora, immigration authorities stopped the bus, Khalili stated, ordering the motive force to take the migrants to an immigration workplace.

Fearing they might be deported, the migrants scattered, wandering for hours by dense desert brush.

Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) didn’t reply to questions on Khalili’s expertise in Mexico.

Around midnight a few week later, Khalili and his household huddled beneath the 18-foot slatted metal wall separating Tijuana from San Diego, making ready to scale a flimsy ladder and bounce into the United States, he stated.

He helped his grandmother descend by sliding down the metal slats along with her ft on his shoulders, he stated.

Border brokers took the migrants to a detention heart, Khalili stated, and about 36 hours later, he was launched into the United States with a discover to seem in immigration courtroom in May.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security didn’t reply to questions concerning the border crossings and immigration instances of the Afghans profiled in this story.

Reflecting on the harrowing journey Khalili stated he would counsel different Afghans not to threat it. “They must not come this way.”

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(This story has not been edited by News18 employees and is printed from a syndicated information company feed)

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