“The rapidly developing situation in Afghanistan, including the imminent siege of Kabul, requires swift action and humanitarian diplomacy from the United States and its international partners to protect civilians and ensure safe passage out of the country for those who need it. This will require a massive evacuation effort for those Afghans most at risk and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor out of Kabul.
Afghanistan’s security forces have failed to keep the Taliban from gaining territory at an alarming rate. And while we all hope for some form of a negotiated outcome, Kabul, a city of more than 4.4 million people, including some 120,0000 displaced this year from elsewhere in Afghanistan, is at imminent risk. Those who have fled the capital city in the face of the Taliban advance have nowhere left to go.
Whatever one’s views about the wisdom of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the most obvious immediate result of that decision is that hundreds of thousands of Afghans now face more dire and imminent threats to their well-being, their safety, and their very lives. And that imposes special obligations on the Biden administration.
The United States and other countries are evacuating embassy staff and some Afghans who worked for them through the Kabul airport. That effort must be accelerated and expanded to include members of Afghan civil society under direct threat like women leaders, human rights activists, journalists, and leaders of minority communities.
But the much larger number of Afghans at grave risk—literally hundreds of thousands—who will need to seek refuge abroad will not be able to evacuated by air. These vulnerable Afghans will need a humanitarian land corridor to find refuge. One viable corridor would take them from Kabul and across into Pakistan.
Negotiating such a humanitarian corridor, primarily with the Taliban and the government of Pakistan, will take time and needs to begin now, notwithstanding other political talks that may be underway. Pakistan has repeatedly threatened to close the border to Afghans seeking safety. This must change. Humanitarian aid and the political groundwork for their reception in Pakistan and resettlement elsewhere also needs to begin.
Moreover, to promote cooperation of Pakistan and other neighboring governments in the region, the United States and its NATO partners must make a significant and substantial commitment to the resettlement of Afghans.
After the fall of Saigon, nearly a million South Vietnamese fled across the sea as so-called boat people. The United States resettled many hundreds of thousand in the United States, and more through an ‘Orderly Departure Program.’ We owe Afghans the same degree of decency.
But now, we need do what we can—and do it now—beginning with a humanitarian corridor to address the immediate human rights and humanitarian imperative.”
Eric Schwartz was the senior NSC official for humanitarian operations during the Clinton administration, and Assistant Secretary of State for refugees in the Obama administration. He managed U.S. responses to forced migration crises and contingencies involving Haitians, Cubans, Kurds from Northern Iraq, Kosovars, Vietnamese, and Rwandans.
For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Refugees International Director of Communications Sarah Sheffer at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 202 540 7029