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.


6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece
Updated 41 min 47 sec ago

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

ATHENS: A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.
The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.
According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.


Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police
Updated 03 March 2021

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the location before the site opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don't know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we're saying is that something like that doesn't just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.


Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
Updated 03 March 2021

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
  • Imran Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his political allies will seek to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties on Wednesday in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of the country’s parliament.
Though his party won the 2018 general election, Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation – including legal reforms sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“They have difficulty in legislating, and many laws are stuck,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, said.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which translates into Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 12 seats in the Senate, and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) have 12 and 25 seats each.
PTI is looking to go up to 25 seats after the elections, and, along with other coalition parties and independents, have a slender majority in the Senate.
The electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half of the chamber’s strength, comprises Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.
With opposition parties controlling the Senate, the government has had to pass interim legislation through Presidential Ordinances, which expire in 120 days.
The government’s legislators and allies in the lower house of parliament will vote on making Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, a senator. The result could show how much confidence there is in the administration.
“It could determine who has a majority in parliament... it will be an embarrassment for the government, and could even lead to seeking a fresh vote of confidence,” Mehboob said.
The lead up to the potentially pivotal election has been marked by the government and opposition charging each other with seeking votes through unfair means.


Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
Updated 03 March 2021

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
  • Daesh fighters targeted three female employees of a television station

Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday evening.
The militant group, which has a presence in Afghanistan, said its fighters had targeted the three female employees of a television station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to SITE Intelligence group.
Three women who worked for Enikas TV aged between 18 and 20 had died and a fourth was critically injured after being shot on their way home from work, Afghan officials had said.