US to resume processing special visas for Afghans who aided Americans

US to resume processing special visas for Afghans who aided Americans
The US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, celebrates the Fourth of July, Independence Day, in 2009. (Wikimedia Commons)
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Updated 26 January 2021

US to resume processing special visas for Afghans who aided Americans

US to resume processing special visas for Afghans who aided Americans
  • Aimed at supporting Afghans and Iraqis who came under threat for their work with the US, the special visa programs have lengthy application processes
  • Some of those working for the US government or military have been killed in Afghanistan in attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents in the past years

KABUL: The US Embassy in Afghanistan will re-start issuing Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) for locals who worked for the US military and entities affiliated with Washington in the country, after suspending them in March due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, two US diplomats in Kabul told Arab news.

A US press report earlier put the number of those affected by the suspension of the visa approvals at thousands, but embassy staff said the figure stood at hundreds.

“In early February, the embassy’s consular section will begin a phased resumption of immigrant visa interviews, including interviews for SIV applicants,” a diplomat at the US Embassy in Kabul told Arab News, on condition of anonymity, on Tuesday.

“The initial phase will prioritize interviews postponed earlier, after which we expect to coordinate with the National Visa Center to resume scheduling new immigrant visa appointments for applications (the documents of which) are complete,” the diplomat said.

She added that because of ongoing COVID-19 measures, the embassy will have a reduced appointment capacity. The health and safety of applicants and staff will be the first priority as visa interviews resume, which may require future cancellations or reductions in appointments.

She could not say how many visas the embassy expects to process.

“We can’t provide the numbers that have been issued or that are waiting. However, Congress has authorized 26,500 principal applicants and the numbers remain available until the program ends. That is, they do not expire if unused in a given year — they carry forward into subsequent years. Specifically, no numbers have been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” another senior US diplomat told Arab News, also requesting anonymity.

More than 7,000 special visas allocated to Afghans by the US Congress in 2020 went unissued, compared with about 5,000 the year before, the Washington Post reported last week citing US State Department data.

Aimed at supporting Afghans and Iraqis who came under threat for their work with the US, the special visa programs have lengthy application processes that have prolonged the average waiting time to three years.

Some of those working for the US government or military have been killed in Afghanistan in attacks by the Taliban and other insurgents in the past years.

Embassy officials could not say if, amid the surge of targeted killings in recent months, any of the applicants waiting for SIVs had lost their lives or filed complaints of threats against them since the halt of the program in Afghanistan.

Two beneficiaries who worked for the US military as translators until 2019 said they had received threats by phone and had to change their residences as a result.

“The person from the other end said: ‘We know who you worked for, and (you) are a traitor of the country. We are after you,’” one Afghan translator, who worked with the US, said.

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a US-based legal and advocacy organization, has documented and conducted research on SIVs both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

“For more than a decade, the Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs have provided a pathway to safety for Iraqis and Afghans whose service, alongside US forces, diplomats, and aid workers, has exposed them and their families to threats, harm, and death,” IRAP said in a document obtained by Arab News.

“Tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been safely resettled in the US over the life of the program and it continues to operate today. The process has not, however, been smooth. Over the years, the SIV programs have been beset by technical, practical, and political obstacles and inefficiencies that have hampered their operation and threatened the promise that the US government made to these allies for their service.”

Any future SIV programs should be adjudicated by diplomats in a location that supports sufficient resources, set clear expectations for processing times, ensure that adequate numbers of visas are authorized and issued, accept credible statements from applicants as proof of an ongoing serious threat, and ensure that the surviving spouses and children of deceased applicants can pursue visas, it said.


Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
Updated 21 April 2021

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s navy is searching for 53 people on board a missing submarine and is seeking help from Australia and Singapore, the country’s military chief told Reuters on Wednesday.
The German-made submarine, KRI Nanggala-402, was conducting a torpedo drill in waters north of the island of Bali on Wednesday but failed to relay the results as expected, a navy spokesman said.
Representatives of the defense departments of Australia and Singapore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin
Updated 21 April 2021

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia is aiming for herd immunity against the coronavirus by autumn and hailed his country’s development of three vaccines.
“Vaccination is now of paramount importance... to allow herd immunity to develop in the fall,” Putin said during his annual state of the nation address, adding that “our scientists have made a real breakthrough. Now Russia has three reliable vaccines against the coronavirus.”


Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter
Updated 21 April 2021

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

A son of Chad's slain leader Idriss Deby Itno is to take over as president in place of his father, according to a charter released Wednesday by the presidency.
It said General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, who on Tuesday was named transitional leader as head of a military council following his father's death, will "occupy the functions of the president of the republic" and also serve as head of the armed forces.


Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
Updated 21 April 2021

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
  • At least 738 people killed and 3,300 in jails as political prisoners
  • “The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe”

YANGON: The Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said Wednesday.
The military has stepped up its use of lethal force to quash mass demonstrations against a February 1 coup which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 738 people have been killed and 3,300 are languishing in jails as political prisoners, according to a local monitoring group.
“Horrified to learn that... the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter (of a) million Myanmar people displaced, according to sources,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews tweeted on Wednesday.
“The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group, estimated last week at least 24,000 people were displaced in northern Karen state amid military ground attacks and airstrikes earlier in the month.
Karen National Union brigade five spokesperson Padoh Mann Mann said Wednesday that more than 2,000 Karen people have now crossed Myanmar’s border into Thailand and that thousands more are internally displaced.
“They all hide in the jungle nearby their villages,” he said.
Amid mounting violence, South East Asian leaders and foreign ministers are set to hold talks on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on Saturday.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s expected involvement in the summit has angered activists and human rights groups.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said.
Overnight, authorities released freelance video journalist Ko Latt, who had been held in custody for a month in the capital Naypyidaw.
At least 70 reporters have been arrested since the coup and 38 are in detention, according to Reporting ASEAN.
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South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
Updated 21 April 2021

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
  • Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision
  • Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty

SEOUL: A South Korean court on Wednesday rejected a claim by South Korean sexual slavery victims and their relatives who sought compensation from the Japanese government over their wartime sufferings.
The Seoul Central District Court based its decision on diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant states immunity from jurisdiction of foreign courts. This appeared to align with the position maintained by Tokyo, which had boycotted the court proceedings and insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations with South Korea.
Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision and said the Seoul Central District Court was ignoring their struggles to restore the women’s honor and dignity. They said in a statement that the plaintiffs would appeal.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect relations between the estranged US allies. They spent years escalating their feud in public over issues stemming from Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea through end of World War II before facing pressure from the Biden administration to mend ties and coordinate action in the face of threats from China and North Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato noted the decision conflicted with a previous ruling on a separate case that found the Japanese government responsible for compensating sexual slavery victims.
Kato said he wouldn’t comment on the new ruling before examining the details more closely, but he added that Tokyo’s stance on the sexual slavery issue remains unchanged. He said the previous ruling violated international law and was unacceptable.
“Japan continues to strongly ask South Korea to take appropriate steps in order to correct the state of international violation,” he said.
The 20 plaintiffs, who had sued Japanese government in 2016, included 11 women who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II and relatives of other women who have since died.
The court said international law and previous rulings from South Korea’s Supreme Court make it clear that foreign governments should be immune from civil damage suits in respect of their sovereignty.
“If we go against the (principles) of current customary international law regarding the immunity of states and deny immunity for the defendant, a diplomatic clash with the defendant will become unavoidable following the verdict and the process to forcibly execute it,” the court said in a statement.
One of the plaintiffs – 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo – has been campaigning for South Korea and Japan to settle their decades-long impasse over sexual slavery by seeking judgment from the UN’s International Court of Justice.
She has said it has become clear the issue cannot be resolved through bilateral talks or rulings by South Korea’s domestic courts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government, and that the friction between governments has hurt friendships between civilians.
“Regardless of the verdict, we will go to the International Court of Justice,” she told reporters after Wednesday’s ruling.
The same court in a largely symbolic ruling in January had called for the Japanese government to give 100 million won ($89,000) each to a separate group of 12 women who sued in 2013 over their wartime suffering as sex slaves.
Tens of thousands of women across Japanese-occupied Asia and the Pacific were moved to front-line brothels used by the Japanese military. About 240 South Korean women registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery by Japan’s wartime military – only 15 of whom are still alive.
Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty, in which Tokyo provided $500 million in economic assistance to Seoul.
Amnesty International in a statement called Wednesday’s ruling a “major disappointment that fails to deliver justice to the remaining survivors of this military slavery system and to those who suffered these atrocities before and during World War II but had already passed away, as well as their families.”
Referring to the January court ruling, Arnold Fang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, said, “What was a landmark victory for the survivors after an overly long wait is again now being called into question.”
The ruling came as the Asian US allies struggle to repair their relations that sank to post-war lows in recent years over history, trade, and military issues.
Their recurring animosity could possibly complicate President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster three-way cooperation with US regional allies, which declined under years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Besides the impasse over sexual slavery, South Korea and Japan have feuded over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work in factories during the war.
The countries have made little progress in repairing their relations despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vow last month to build “future-oriented ties” with Tokyo. Those comments came after Moon during a January news conference described that month’s ruling on the sexual slavery survivors as “honestly a complicating” development for government efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Moon’s office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s ruling. Aside from the history issues, fresh tensions have risen after Japan confirmed it would release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
In 2015, South Korea’s previous conservative government reached a deal with Japan to “irreversibly” resolve the sexual slavery dispute. Under that deal, Japan agreed to fund a foundation to support victims in return for South Korea ceasing its criticism of Japan over the issue.
But Moon’s government took steps to dissolve the foundation after he took office in 2017, saying the 2015 deal lacked legitimacy because officials failed to properly communicate with victims before reaching it.