Despite Taliban threat, the US has accepted fewer than 500 Afghan refugees this year

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Despite Taliban threat, the US has accepted fewer than 500 Afghan refugees this year
Women with their children try to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
  • President Biden set a refugee admissions cap of 62,500 for fiscal year 2021, which ends this fall.
  • But the US is on track to accept fewer than 10,000 refugees.
  • Biden is facing pressure to accept far more after the collapse of the Afghan government.

Despite warnings that a Taliban takeover was both imminent and a threat to vulnerable Afghans, particularly women, data from the State Department shows that the US has accepted fewer than 500 refugees from Afghanistan this year.

Just 485 Afghan refugees have been resettled since January, according to the State Department, and 494 since the 2021 fiscal year began last October. Admissions peaked in June, when 162 refugees were accepted, but declined to just 84 in July.

More than 2,700 Afghan refugees were admitted in the US during the 2016 fiscal year under former President Barack Obama. Almost 2.5 million refugees from Afghanistan are registered with the United Nations' Refugee Agency.

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The paltry numbers come as President Biden faces pressure from many Democrats to do more to help Washington's former partners in Afghanistan following the August 15 collapse of the civilian government - and scenes of desperate people rushing to the international airport in Kabul seeking to escape.

According to the International Rescue Committee, over 300,000 Afghan civilians have been "affiliated" with the US military, but only 16,000 have been issued Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), which is separate from the refugee program.

Around 2,000 of those applicants have been evacuated in recent months but as many as 50,000 applicants remain in the country, Roll Call reported.

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2,871 applicants have been accepted under the SIV program since January, the most coming in July with the US resettling 1,173 people.

At the current pace, the US is on track to accept roughly the same number of Afghan refugees, around 600, as during the last fiscal year under President Donald Trump. That despite pleas from Afghans and refugee advocates to ramp up the pace of resettlements in the months leading up to the planned withdrawal of US forces.

"The US needs to seize this moment to avert further humanitarian catastrophe and ensure that thousands of Afghans stuck in limbo and in serious danger of Taliban reprisals are offered save haven," Denise Bell, a researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International, told Insider. "Words must be put into action immediately."

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Overall, as Insider reported earlier this month, the US is set to accept fewer than 10,000 refugees this fiscal year, the lowest number since the modern resettlement program began. In 1980, by contrast, the US accepted more than 200,000 refugees.

In part, according to experts who spoke to Insider, the low numbers this year are a product of the last administration dismantling the resettlement program. President Biden has pledged to accept as many as 125,000 refugees in his first full fiscal year in office.

But Sunil Varghese, policy director at the International Refugee Assistance Project, also blamed a lack of urgency.

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"It is easy to think that this was inevitable because of COVID-19 or the previous administration's anti-refugee policies. But that's not necessarily the case," he said. "More could have and should have been done."

But there is also pressure from other side to deny refuge to vulnerable Afghans. Former Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who has advocated the complete termination of the resettlement program, this week claimed the Biden administration was hoping to use the collapse of the Afghan government as a "pretext" for accepting refugees.

A conspiracy theory popular on the far right, recently espoused by Fox News' Tucker Carlson, holds that Democrats aim to "replace" white Americans with non-white immigrants.

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Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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