Calls for the White House to Reconsider August 31 withdrawal deadline
New York, NY — The Women’s Refugee Commission today urged President Biden to reconsider his decision to not extend the August 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, highlighting the numbers of at-risk Afghans—including women activists and other human rights defenders who may need to be evacuated.
“The Women’s Refugee Commission is gravely concerned about President Biden’s decision today to not extend his August 31 deadline to evacuate Americans and certain categories of targeted Afghans,” said Gayatri Patel, vice president of external relations at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Despite efforts throughout the week to evacuate all of the individuals the president pledged to assist, WRC remains deeply concerned about the safety and rights of Afghan civilians, particularly women’s rights activists, female journalists and educators, and other human rights defenders, who are unlikely to be evacuated by this deadline.”
“While networks of activists, NGOs, and others from within and outside of Afghanistan have worked feverishly to urge the United States and allies to prioritize the safety of these women in light of Taliban threats and credible reports of violence and harassment against them, we believe that several thousand—if not more—remain urgently in need of evacuation or other protection,” said Patel. “We strongly urge President Biden to reconsider this decision and extend the slated August 31 deadline to ensure a safe and sustainable evacuation of all persons at risk.”
Many of these women fear retribution for being among the estimated 18,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. forces, worked with U.S. government-supported programs for education, sanitation, governance, health, etc., or advocated vocally for women’s rights and human rights. Threats made against them fall against a backdrop of reports of violence against women across Afghanistan that have permeated media coverage since Kabul fell to the Taliban on August 15. One woman was killed by Taliban militants for refusing to cook for them. Other women and girls have been forced into marriage with Taliban soldiers or flogged publicly for offenses as simple as wearing sandals.
“This is an arbitrary date set by the president and it is just not enough time to get the people at risk, including Afghan women and members of ethnic minorities, out. We know they are, and will continue to be, targeted by the Taliban,” said Patel. “We are thankful, of course, for the number of Afghans the U.S. military has been able to evacuate. But it’s not enough. Too many women will die if the U.S. keeps to the August 31 deadline.”
“I am hearing stories daily of women in hiding because their homes have already been targeted or raided by the Taliban, and there is a culture of fear building as the evacuation process starts to run out of time,” said Patel. “The U.S. government must keep its promise to stand with the Afghan people. If we abandon these women, many may die and many more will face horrific human rights abuses. We cannot leave these women behind.”
WRC is calling on the Biden administration and other global leaders to:
- Provide immediate and urgent evacuation and protection of civilians in line with international humanitarian law and UN Security Council resolutions on the protection of civilians and on women, peace, and security.
- Expedite humanitarian visas, including SIV and other US visa processes, and refrain from capping or placing quotas on Afghan refugees.
- Prioritize women and other Afghans who are at high risk and allow for paperless evacuations.
- Provide safe refuge to civilians fleeing their homes, especially for neighboring countries.
- Mobilize urgent humanitarian assistance and ensure humanitarian access to refugees and those internally displaced within Afghanistan.
- Support and fund the work of Afghan women human rights defenders and peacebuilders, including through mechanisms such as the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.
- Hold the Taliban accountable for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses, including gender-based violence.
- Hold the Taliban accountable for ensuring continued access to education for women and girls.
Read about WRC’s work on the Afghanistan crisis, including resources and recommendations on how to help.