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Desperate Afghan Christians turned away at airport, aid groups say

//Desperate Afghan Christians turned away at airport, aid groups say

With time running out to rescue civilians fleeing the Taliban, Afghan Christians and others whose names appear on U.S. government lists of qualified evacuees are being turned away at the airport in Kabul, representatives of aid organizations and others told CNA Wednesday. “I was told by contacts from various groups working to rescue those still in danger in Afghanistan—who must remain anonymous — that the State Department at least at a certain point was not implementing the lists that they require the organizations to compile — even though they have sent them multiple times,” Faith McDonnell, director of advocacy at Katartismos Global, an Anglican nonprofit ministry group based in Manassas, Virginia, told CNA Wednesday.

“It seems at present as if no one is getting any priority unless they have some sort of special connection inside the airport,” she said. Looming over the deepening humanitarian crisis is a deadline of Friday for civilian evacuation operations at the Kabul airport to give way to the transport of the remaining 5,400 U.S. military personnel out of the country in order to meet a target date of Aug. 31, set months ago by the Biden administration, for a full U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have said the date could be extended if necessary, according to a Wall Street Journal report. According to the White House, the United States has evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 87,900 people out of Afghanistan since the end of July, on U.S. military and coalition flights. However, at least tens of thousands are still reportedly looking to leave Kabul in the coming days.

Adding to the rising anxiety for Christians and other religious groups whose faith places them at extreme risk to Taliban persecution, aid officials and others told CNA, is that the State Department’s “P-2” designation for certain priority evacuees does not specifically include Christians or other members of religious minorities. The designation currently gives priority to “women at risk,” journalists, academics, pilots, and “minority populations,” among others.

The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission, called Wednesday for the Biden administration to broaden the designation to explicitly include Afghan religious minorities, in recognition of the severe risks they already face, which will only heighten after the end of the U.S. evacuation,” according to a statement by USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie.

Among the aid groups caught up in the chaos is conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s nonprofit group, The Nazarene Fund, which Beck says has raised more than $28 million to evacuate Christians from Afghanistan. Beck said in a video posted on Instagram that his group has at least 20 large aircraft available, including 737s and 757s, and hopes to airlift some 7,000 people to safety by Friday. Beck said that Tuesday that after a day of delays the first planes carrying a total of 1,200 people had flown out from the airport.

By Alejandro Bermudez, Shannon Mullen, Matt Hadro