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


The text messages that have come in from a refugee resettlement agency near Seattle in the past few days are growing desperate.

As the United States’ withdrawal and evacuation of Afghanistan progresses – there are fewer than 100 US citizens in the country according to the State Department – there are still thousands trapped in the country who have helped or worked for American forces and organizations over the years and fear now for your safety.

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

“If they see you’re working with a US organization, they’ll beat you,” said a text message recently received by JFS employees. “To stay safe, I try to change my location every few days.”

“I can’t stop the tears, the world has forgotten us,” says another. “Before the US does anything, we will be in the grave … I hope it doesn’t affect my family.”

The agency and Washington’s two U.S. Senators have asked the Biden administration to do more to facilitate the evacuation of green card and visa holders and others who have helped American organizations over the years and are now threatened by the Taliban.

Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, along with 11 Democratic colleagues, wrote to Biden this week asking him to create two new jobs, one in the President’s Executive Office and one in the State Department, who are responsible for directing the ongoing evacuation effort from Afghanistan.

“It takes committed, comprehensive leadership at the highest level within the administration,” wrote the senators. “Saving Americans is a floor, not a ceiling. A focus on the evacuation of Americans – to the exclusion of others whose escape we have promised – is unacceptable. “

Cantwell said her office has 1,800 open cases in Afghanistan alone from people she wants to help.

“To get their safe passage, we have to know that we have someone,” said Cantwell on Wednesday. “We need an envoy or something.”

One of the questions she claims to have asked is “who is specifically responsible for the ongoing evacuation efforts”.

As the senators acknowledge in their letter, this question is made more difficult by the fact that the US no longer has an embassy or an official presence in Afghanistan.

“What we need is someone to sit on the National Security Council, specially appointed by the White House, by President Biden, to focus on these evacuation efforts because it cannot be just a superficial position,” said Rabbi Will Berkovitz , CEO of JFS Seattle.

JFS is one of the few local resettlement organizations working with Afghan refugees. They help arriving families with the search for accommodation, with the procurement of furniture and food, with enrollment in school and with the search for work. To that end, they have hired Afghan immigrants over the years who can speak the language and help newcomers adjust to an unknown society and culture.

But these employees, in turn, often still have families in Afghanistan and are struggling to get out themselves.

JFS says it still has about 160 customers or family members of employees in Afghanistan and 173 currently stuck in other countries between Afghanistan and the United States.

“They are trying to get their families out while at the same time relocating others who have dropped out,” Berkovitz said of JFS employees. “They furnish apartments, help children attend school … and at the same time hear from their families who hide day after day, have no more money and are afraid.”

Or, as JFS employees recently said in another text message from Afghanistan: “My family consists of my mother, my sister and their children, and we are all in imminent danger because of my work. If something happened to them, I could never forgive myself. So my request to the US government is to evacuate my family with me, not just myself. “

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