Desperate Afghan Christians turned away at airport, aid groups say

Looming over the deepening humanitarian crisis is a deadline of Friday for civilian evacuation operations at the Kabul airport

With time running out to rescue civilians fleeing the Taliban, Afghan Christians and others whose names appear on US government lists of qualified evacuees are being turned away at the airport in Kabul, representatives of aid organizations and others told CNA Wednesday.

“I was told by contacts from various groups working to rescue those still in danger in Afghanistan—who must remain anonymous — that the State Department at least at a certain point was not implementing the lists that they require the organizations to compile — even though they have sent them multiple times,” Faith McDonnell, director of advocacy at Katartismos Global, an Anglican nonprofit ministry group based in Manassas, Virginia, told CNA Wednesday.

“It seems at present as if no one is getting any priority unless they have some sort of special connection inside the airport,” she said.

Looming over the deepening humanitarian crisis is a deadline of Friday for civilian evacuation operations at the Kabul airport to give way to the transport of the remaining 5,400 US military personnel out of the country in order to meet a target date of Aug. 31, set months ago by the Biden administration, for a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

US officials have said the date could be extended if necessary, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

According to the White House, the United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 87,900 people out of Afghanistan since the end of July, on US military and coalition flights. However, at least tens of thousands are still reportedly looking to leave Kabul in the coming days.

Adding to the rising anxiety for Christians and other religious groups whose faith places them at extreme risk to Taliban persecution, aid officials and others told CNA, is that the State Department’s “P-2” designation for certain priority evacuees does not specifically include Christians or other members of religious minorities.

The designation currently gives priority to “women at risk,” journalists, academics, pilots, and “minority populations,” among others.

The US Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, called Wednesday for the Biden administration to broaden the designation to explicitly include Afghan religious minorities, in recognition of the severe risks they already face, which will only heighten after the end of the US evacuation,” according to a statement by USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie.

Afghan women wait to receive free wheat donated by the Afghan government during a quarantine, amid concerns about COVID-19 in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 21, 2020. (Reuters)

Among the aid groups caught up in the chaos is conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s nonprofit group, The Nazarene Fund, which Beck says has raised more than US$28 million to evacuate Christians from Afghanistan. 

Beck said in a video posted on Instagram that his group has at least 20 large aircraft available, including 737s and 757s, and hopes to airlift some 7,000 people to safety by Friday.

Beck said that Tuesday that after a day of delays the first planes carrying a total of 1,200 people had flown out from the airport.

“The spiritual warfare that is going on right now, I mean, everything has been a battle,” Beck said in a video posted on Instagram Sunday. “It’s just a battle of good versus evil.”

A State Department spokesperson told CNA on Wednesday that the US government is not organizing private charter evacuation flights, nor is it endorsing claims by third parties of providing airport access in Kabul.

In another development Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the German government had negotiated with the Taliban to allow civilian evacuation operations in Kabul to continue beyond the Aug. 31 deadline, “as a prerequisite for an international diplomatic and humanitarian presence in the country.”

Germany would provide “immediate assistance of more than $100 million to Afghanistan, with the possibility of another nearly US$600 million,” with the money channelled through humanitarian organizations, the newspaper reported.

Evacuees crowd the interior of a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Defense One via Reuters)

In the meantime, according to multiple reports, conditions at the airport deteriorated further on Wednesday. 

“Several organizations have reported that even though these organizations‘ aircraft have passenger manifests, the airport personnel are loading different people for those on the manifest onto all the aircraft that are departing,” said McDonnell of Katartismos.

“Others have reported that at times, one government agency is rejecting people that another government agency has approved and tried to bring into the airport,” she said. 

Nina Shea, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, based in Washington, D.C., provided a similar account to CNA.

“I’ve started receiving panicked emails from Afghan Christians through their Western contacts. They are not being allowed to board USG (US government) flights in Kabul. I’m advising them to try to board Glenn Beck’s flights instead,” Shea said in an email to CNA. 

Jason Jones, a conservative film producer, author, and podcaster who runs a nonprofit humanitarian organization called The Vulnerable People Project, said he has been working to refer the names of those desperate to escape to the office of US Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), which is working to get those individuals on US government lists of qualified evacuees.

“Kabul is falling apart and our people are panicking,” Jones said in an email to CNA. “The next 72 hours are going to be very dark. Kabul has descended into chaos and confusion and our citizens and friends are collapsing into despair. People are being contacted by the State Department and told to go to the airport only to be sent away.”

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