US military veterans and members of aid groups met Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday to push authorities to work faster in helping Afghans escape the Taliban.
Mr Blinken thanked representatives from #AfghanEvac, a coalition of more than 100 groups consisting of veterans, social workers, lawyers and advocates, for their efforts in helping bring vulnerable Afghans to safety.
“It was a good conversation. He listened to our concerns,” said Camille Mackler, who attended the virtual meeting.
Ms Mackler is executive director of Immigrant Arc, an organisation that provides legal services to immigrants in New York, and is also a fellow at the Truman Centre, a Washington-based think tank that has worked closely with groups to bring people out of Afghanistan.
“We had pre-submitted questions and he had thought through the answers and came prepared to give us not sound bites, but answers.”
She added, however, that while the meeting was productive, the State Department needs to do more to expedite and expand Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) processing.
Afghans eligible to receive SIVs aided US forces during the 20 years of war in the country.
“The US immigration legal system and our migration policies and our migration legal structure is not set up to deal with a humanitarian crisis like this and utterly failed the Afghan people,” Ms Mackler told The National.
From August 14 to August 30, the US managed to remove more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan in the largest airlift operation in US history.
But many were left behind, and veterans and civilians have been scrambling to find alternative ways to bring people to safety.
Since August 31, the US has helped or assisted in the removal of 435 American citizens and 325 lawful permanent residents.
“All US citizens who have requested assistance from the US government to depart Afghanistan and who are ready to do so have been offered an opportunity to leave the country,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Last week, a group of bipartisan senators signed an amendment to the National Defence Authorisation Act that calls on the State Department, Homeland Security and other federal agencies to speed up processing times for SIV recipients.
All of this comes as winter bears down on Afghanistan, where about nine million people are at risk of famine and an additional 14.1 million are facing acute food shortages, the UN reported.
This all adds increased urgency to the work of aid groups and veterans who continue to search for ways to help people escape the Taliban.