With winter shutting down across much of Afghanistan, US veterans organizations and other private groups are pressuring the State Department for funds to continue evacuating thousands of Afghans vulnerable who failed to get out of the country during the massive US airlift in August.
The call for government funding for the increasingly expensive humanitarian operation came during recent meetings between private organizers and State Department officials. While the State Department, which is leading the Afghan relocation effort, has not said whether it will fund charter flights organized by the groups, organizers say such assistance could help speed up what has been a slow business so far.
“There is more effort on the part of the state to try to take the driver’s seat in this evacuation, which is great,” said Sara Yim, co-founder of Transit Initiatives, one of several. volunteer organizations supporting Afghans awaiting evacuation.
“If the US government cannot speed up the evacuations on its own, the fact that it is willing to partner with private organizations to do it is, in my mind, always a victory, because private organizations are the ones who provide a lifeline and are connected to Afghans on the ground, ”Yim said in an interview with VOA.
Since leading the evacuation of nearly 124,000 civilians from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover in August, the Biden administration has faced mounting criticism for leaving behind thousands of people. ‘Afghans and up to 1,000 Americans.
State Department spokesman Ned Price did not respond directly when asked at a press briefing last week whether the United States provides financial assistance for private charter flights, instead mentioning the “charter operations” on which the United States worked with Qatar and Pakistan.
In September, the United States paid for seats for hundreds of U.S. citizens, green card holders and others on several Qatar Airways and Pakistan International Airlines flights to Doha and Islamabad for relocation to the United States.
Increasingly, however, the State Department views private charter flights as a valuable alternative until commercial flights resume.
“Our goal is to make [charter flights] even more routine, to give a certain degree of automaticity to these operations, ”said Price.
Chartering evacuation flights is expensive. A private charter from the town of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan to a military base in the Middle East – a common destination for Afghan evacuees – can cost up to $ 750,000, according to organizers.
“It’s not easy to raise half a million all at once,” said Minda Aguhob of Female & Free Speech Airlift, a coalition of volunteers evacuating people from Afghanistan. “That’s what you need just to get the flight off the ground, and another quarter of a million to house people so you don’t send them to starve.”
As a result, cash-strapped organizations often pooled their resources to jointly fund flights or send evacuees on flights paid for by other groups.
“If another organization has a group that they are trying to get out, and they’ve been funded to take that group out but have extra seats on that plane, they don’t want to leave those seats empty,” he said. said Phil Caruso. , president of the non-profit association No One Left Behind. “So they will contact other organizations to say, ‘Hey, do you have someone who is ready and willing to travel, who has the required documents, and so on? And can you get them here? “”
Getting a charter flight off the ground requires delicate international diplomacy, said Alex Plitsas, spokesperson for Human First Coalition.
“To get all these people in you have to take a flight that’s ready to land in Afghanistan. And from there you have to have a third country that’s ready to receive them – and it depends on their administrative status,” he said. declared Plitsas.
Human First Coalition said it helped evacuate 6,000 people during the US-led airlift. The group has since evacuated several hundred Afghans and are currently harboring several thousand more waiting to leave Afghanistan.
“Our operational costs run into millions of dollars every month, so we definitely need donors and financial support, just to be frank with you,” Plitsas said, noting that their operation is privately funded.
Chad Robichaux, co-founder of Save Our Allies, a coalition of veterans and military support, said government funding for private charter flights could make a big difference.
“The good thing would be to help these people out, for the government to step in and help fund the exit of these people,” Robichaux said in an interview with VOA.
With funding from conservative radio host Glenn Beck’s Nazarene Fund, Save Our Allies has helped organize nearly 20 charter flights to evacuate more than 2,000 people in recent weeks, mostly military interpreters, women and children. vulnerable and Christians facing persecution.
The group has a priority list of around 3,000 vulnerable Afghans that it wants to evacuate. But with media interest in Afghanistan diminishing, Robichaux said donor fatigue remains a concern.
“As soon as the news cycle stops talking about it, it will be much more difficult for us to raise funds to do what needs to be done,” he said.
It is not known how many Afghans at risk remain stranded. Some estimates put the number at over 100,000. Plitsas said his organization was determined to continue its mission until one of two things happened: “Either we run out of funding and are unable to function, or we take out all the people we need to take those flights. “