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Unpaid and Doubtlessly Stateless, Afghan Diplomats Search Permission to Stay in U.S.

By , in Politics , at February 13, 2022

American banks have suspended authorities accounts to forestall the Taliban from having access to funds, suspending the salaries of many staff.

WASHINGTON — Already reeling from a Taliban takeover of their authorities and a humanitarian catastrophe of their homeland, Afghan diplomats in the US are grappling with one other bleak actuality: the lack of pay and the opportunity of being deported.

A number of dozen diplomats assigned to Afghanistan’s embassy in Washington and consulates in New York and Los Angeles haven’t been paid since October, officers stated, when American banks froze accounts to forestall the Taliban from having access to the embassy’s funds.

However the envoys, who had been a part of the American-backed authorities that was overthrown in August, are holding the embassy open — persevering with diplomatic work but additionally preserving the diplomatic standing that permits them to stay in the US.

Ought to the embassy shut earlier than they’re granted asylum or different authorized residency, the diplomats may discover themselves stateless and with out the permits wanted to get a job.

“This isn’t one thing that we wished. However it’s one thing that got here,” Abdul Hadi Nejrabi, the Afghan Embassy’s deputy chief of mission, stated in an interview.

“We could not be capable to proceed for a very long time — it would come to an finish,” he stated. “There may be nonetheless plenty of work to do. However we’re right here till we attain a path we are able to’t proceed.”

All over the world, Afghan diplomats proceed to hold out their duties unbiased of the management in Kabul. Many have criticized the brand new authorities as “illegitimate” and nonetheless fly the internationally accepted flag of Afghanistan over their embassies as an alternative of the Taliban’s banner. Others have lobbied their host nations in opposition to unconditionally recognizing the Taliban’s authority.

But the scenario is taking a toll on diplomats who’re additionally nonetheless coming to grips with representing an elected authorities that has ceased to exist. Mr. Nejrabi stated they had been dwelling largely on financial savings, or on loans from kin. Some don’t have any medical health insurance and are racking up 1000’s of {dollars} in medical payments. In France, diplomats have moved into the embassy compound to keep away from paying lease on personal flats, in response to two former Afghan diplomats.

For now, the mission continues on the Afghan Embassy in Washington, a stately brick Colonial Revival constructing within the capital’s diplomatic quarter. Mr. Nejrabi stated the Afghan workers was processing paperwork and different consular requests, and in any other case serving to settle Afghans who’ve fled to the US to flee the Taliban.

The providers usher in $2,00zero to $3,00zero in charges every month, Mr. Nejrabi stated — sufficient to maintain the lights and different utilities on, however too little to pay salaries. That has left the diplomats and their households — about 65 individuals in all — scrambling to make ends meet.

They don’t seem to be alone: Public staff throughout Afghanistan have additionally not been paid as Washington issues conflicting guidance over whether or not American sanctions ought to be enforced in opposition to Afghan authorities financial institution accounts that at the moment are, in idea, managed by the Taliban. The freezing of property of the Afghan Central Financial institution has precipitated a liquidity disaster that has uncovered eight million people to doable hunger in a rustic torn by warfare, drought and acute poverty.

The sanctions had been imposed in opposition to the Taliban years in the past, when it was designated as a global terrorist organization. In October, after the group seized energy, Citibank froze the Washington embassy’s accounts and withheld what Mr. Nejrabi stated was a whole bunch of 1000’s of {dollars} designated for salaries that the previous Afghan authorities had deposited months earlier than it was ousted.

U.S. officers have tried, unsuccessfully, to guarantee Citibank that it will not be penalized if the Afghan funds had been unlocked. The financial institution’s spokesman, Rob Runyan, declined to remark.

“Our precedence all alongside has been to determine a solution to facilitate a comfortable touchdown for the Afghan diplomats who’re in the US,” stated Mark Evans, the State Division’s director for Afghanistan affairs. “Clearly, they’re in very troublesome circumstances by way of no fault of their very own, and we wished to be as supportive as doable.”

Nonetheless, the Biden administration has refused to acknowledge the Taliban as a legit authorities. Till that occurs — if it ever does — officers stated the State Division wouldn’t accredit any diplomats the group sends to Washington.

Whereas the Afghan authorities owns the embassy constructing in Washington, the State Division is answerable for sustaining the property if its envoys are unable to take action. Management of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions stays on the forefront of the wrestle for energy between the Taliban and their opponents over worldwide recognition and help.

One Afghan diplomat, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to keep away from repercussions, stated he detected slow-motion efforts by the Taliban’s authorities to realize recognition from different international locations and management of Afghanistan’s diplomatic missions. Most nations shall be guided by what the U.S. authorities does, he stated.

Final month, the State Division famous the embassy’s dire monetary scenario in a memo to Afghan diplomats that suggested what would occur to the workers if the constructing needed to shut down. A number of officers, who described the doc on the situation of anonymity, stated it prolonged diplomatic immunity and residency to the Afghans for 30 days, to offer them time to pursue asylum or different authorized standing that might permit them to stay in the US.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Photographs

Mr. Nejrabi stated round 55 Afghan diplomats and their members of the family in the US had been looking for asylum, becoming a member of greater than 100,00zero Afghan candidates in a course of that has overwhelmed the Biden administration since Kabul fell in August. The remaining are anticipated to use to have their diplomatic standing transformed to everlasting residency by way of a distinct course of that, officers stated, can settle for solely 50 circumstances annually.

Matthew Bourke, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Companies, stated 31 Afghans had thus far utilized to alter their standing to everlasting residency. That quantity contains diplomats and their members of the family, Mr. Bourke stated, in a course of that may take a number of months to finish. Within the meantime, the immigration company has waived utility charges for the financially strained Afghan diplomats and provided to permit short-term work permits whereas their circumstances are pending.

However with out asylum or different authorized permits, remaining in the US is much from assured for the diplomats, though it isn’t anticipated that they might be despatched again to Afghanistan, the place they might be in peril for working for the earlier authorities.

Afghan diplomats all over the world, led by a bunch of senior ambassadors in Western capitals, refused to affix a convention name scheduled by the brand new overseas minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, late final yr. Most nonetheless haven’t spoken with him.

“Everybody refused and stated: ‘I don’t wish to speak to a authorities that got here by pressure. We don’t symbolize you,’” Mr. Nejrabi stated.

He added, “Even when the U.S. had a brand new relationship with the Taliban, they usually requested me to remain, I’d not, as a result of I can not betray my individuals.”

Mr. Nejrabi, 38, was appointed to the celebrated publish of the Afghan Embassy’s second in command in Washington in 2019, after diplomatic stints in Dubai and because the vice chairman of the Worldwide Chamber of Commerce in Kabul. Now he’s hoping for a job in the US — if he receives authorized residency — that can make use of his abilities.

“Our diplomats had been educated and grew up with freedoms,” he stated. “So how can we return?”

Lara Jakes reported from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Istanbul.

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