Refugee group sues US government on behalf of Afghan former contractor

Refugee group sues US government on behalf of Afghan former contractor
As the US withdraws from Afghanistan, time is running out for it to keep its promise to take care of Afghans who worked to support Washington's mission in the country.
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
01 July, 2021
As the US pulls its military out of Afghanistan, local workers are in a tough spot [Getty Images]

The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an Afghan civil engineer who worked in support of the US military in Afghanistan, challenging what they say is the wrongful denial of his visa application and putting him and his family in danger.

The engineer - named John Doe for his protection - in the complaint filed last week worked on infrastructure projects for contractors serving the US military for around a decade. He had applied for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programme - a pathway to residency and then citizenship in the US.

In 2016, after becoming a target due to his work with the US military, he submitted his visa application, including a supporting letter from his supervisor, Mark Frerichs, an American civil engineer who worked in logistics.  

In 2018, the US government recognised that Doe met the requirements and authorised him and his family to proceed with the application process. But in 2020, when Frerichs was kidnapped, the US government abruptly changed course.

Although Doe and his family were in the final stages of their application and the US government had already confirmed the authenticity of the letter with Frerichs, it revoked the authorisation claiming the letter was now invalid because they could not re-verify it with his former employer. 

"There's very deep concern that he'll be forced to return to a place that’s unsafe," Katie Austin, part of a team of IRAP attorneys representing Doe, told The New Arab.

"It's well known to the government that this person isn't accessible. If the government is going to discount a letter from this person, our client is really in a tough spot."

The lawsuit alleges that this decision violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Afghan Allies Protection Act.

Since 2002, tens of thousands of locals have worked in various positions, mainly as interpreters and translators for the US military.

In a country with one of the highest poverty rates in the world (almost half of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank), such jobs - though risky - have been coveted.

It is estimated that an Afghan is killed every 36 hours due to their affiliation with the US military in Afghanistan.

These workers have done everything from routine office work to risky tasks at military forward operating bases.

It is estimated that there are at least 70,000 Afghan interpreters and other workers who have assisted with the US mission in Afghanistan who are waiting to leave the country.