As the last U.S. military evacuation flight left Afghanistan on Monday, the International Rescue Committee in Missoula met with Sen. Steve Daines to discuss the relocation of Afghan nationals that worked alongside military forces.
Daines said his office was working to ensure the U.S. keeps its pledge to help “qualified and vetted” Afghan nationals find safety. Some of them could end up in Missoula, where the International Rescue Committee maintains a resettlement program.
At least three Afghan families have already arrived this month.
“There’s a sense of relief, but there’s also a sense of fear over the uncertainty going forward and being displaced, and the worry they have for friends and family members who remain in Afghanistan at this moment who they believe will be killed,” Daines said of the Afghan nationals he met earlier in the day.
He added that some may have been left behind.
“We’re not giving up. We have a special elevated contact at the state to help, and there’s support back in Washington. We’re not going to change what happened, but we’re not going to give up.”
Eamon Fahey, the deputy director of the IRC in Missoula, confirmed that three Afghan national families had arrived in Missoula through Special Forces active duty based in Washington state.
He said additional assistance may be needed at the federal level to get others to safety in Missoula. He couldn’t say how many the agency could ultimately help from Montana.
“We’re working right now as an organization to see how we can help. Right now, we have no idea how many Afghan nationals we’ll be welcoming to Montana,” Fahey said. “Those coming over from Afghanistan are like any other refugee we welcome.”
According to Pentagon officials on Monday, the U.S. concluded its withdrawal from Afghanistan, capping the largest evacuation of non-combatants in military history. Of the 79,000 people lifted by military forces from Kabul, around 6,000 were said to be Americans and 73,000 were Afghan or other third-country civilians.
The International Rescue Committee, which reopened its office in Missoula five years ago, has resettled hundreds of refugees in Missoula from a growing list of nations, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
The agency will work to ensure any Afghan nationals settled in Missoula find housing and employment in an effort to “get them as self-sufficient as quickly as possible.”
“The refugees that have been resettled to Missoula have been doing any number of things, working in healthcare and hospitality,” Fahey said. “Families that have been here for a while have truly put down roots here, buying homes, graduating from high school, bringing over family members. I imagine the same thing will happen as we welcome these families from Afghanistan.”
Fahey told the Missoula Current that Afghan civilians claiming a Special Immigrant Visa are treated the same way as any other vetted and approved refugee under the IRC’s resettlement program.
But he added than a Special Immigrant Visa holder enjoys an array of benefits that a holder of a so-called “P2” does not have. A number of other Afghan nationals that have been evacuated have a P2 after aiding various news organizations and Non Governmental Organizations, among other programs.
It’s there where the IRC hopes to find assistance from Congress.
“They (P2 holders) do not receive the full complement of services that refugees and SIVs are entitled to,” Fahey said. “It’s one thing we as an organization are asking Congress and the (Biden) administration to do – to increase those funds for P2s.”
Veterans who met with Daines on Monday in Missoula urged the senator to ensure the nation holds its promise to Afghan allies, who put their lives on the line to assist U.S. military operations. Those left behind have been or could become a target of the Taliban, which now controls the country.
“The SIV applicants have done a lot – a lot more than a lot American citizens have,” one veteran said. “We just have the fortune of being born in this country. Give them (Afghans) a shot. Montana’s great. Bring some of them in.”