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U.S. should do more for LGBTQ Afghan refugees, advocacy groups say

By Christina van Waasbergen, Medill News Service
U.S. should do more for LGBTQ Afghan refugees, advocacy groups say
Refugees evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, wait to board a bus that will take them to a refugee processing center at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia on August 26. Refugee and LGBTQ groups have called for the Biden administration to admit more LGBTQ refugees from Afghanistan to protect them from the Taliban. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON -- The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has increased the threat to LGBTQ Afghans, according to several human rights groups who are urging the Biden administration to act quickly to allow more LGBTQ refugees from the country into the United States.

Dire warnings from the advocate groups come after the United States and several other countries worked to evacuate vulnerable Afghans from Kabul after the Biden administration fully withdrew U.S. troops from the country in August.

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LGBTQ refugees fleeing Afghanistan have been accepted in Britain, and Canada and Ireland have also pledged to help LGBTQ Afghan refugees.

A State Department official said the United States is pressing the Taliban and Afghan leaders to form an inclusive government that respects the rights and dignity of all Afghans.

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"Our commitment to the Afghan people remains steadfast," the official said. "This commitment includes supporting at-risk Afghans, including members of the LGBTQI+ community. We continue to explore options to prioritize vulnerable communities and provide assistance and support through all diplomatic and political options available."

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According to Lacy Broemel, a policy analyst for the International Refugee Assistance Project, many LGBTQ Afghans have said they now have to live in hiding. In July, a German newspaper published an interview with a Taliban judge who described the punishment for homosexuality: "For homosexuals, there can only be two punishments: either stoning or he must stand behind a wall that will fall down on him."

The International Refugee Assistance Project and five other LGBTQ and refugee advocacy organizations released a 10-point plan in September outlining how the United States could help these Afghans. It calls for the Biden administration to prioritize the resettlement of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable Afghans.

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"Unfortunately, LGBTQI Afghans are incredibly vulnerable, and I hope the U.S. will use its refugee program to offer assistance," said Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, one of the organizations that helped put the plan together.

Bromley pointed to President Joe Biden's February presidential memorandum instructing the State Department and other foreign affairs agencies to promote the human rights of LGBTQ people across the globe and protect vulnerable LGBTQ refugees.

"The president signaled as early as last February that support for LGBTQI refugees is an administration priority," Bromley said. "In the case of Afghanistan, there's never been a greater need than there is now."

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The 10-point plan also calls on the Biden administration to expand or lift the 125,000-person cap for refugee admittance for fiscal year 2022.

A senior administration official said Tuesday that the more than 70,000 Afghans admitted to the United States since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan are not counted against the 125,000-person cap.

"The Biden administration will continue to meet the needs of vulnerable Afghans, LGBTQI+ individuals and other refugees around the world who are in need of resettlement," the official said in a statement.

The advocacy groups' plan specifically calls for the United States to give LGBTQ Afghans "Priority 2" refugee status. P-2 designation, one of the principal ways refugees can gain entry into the United States, is for members of specific groups identified by the State Department as being of "special humanitarian concern."

The Biden administration has given P-2 status to Afghans who worked for the U.S. government, U.S. contractors and other U.S.-based entities such as media outlets and non-governmental organizations, but not to LGBTQ Afghans as a group.

The 10-point plan also calls for the State Department to treat unmarried same-sex partners from Afghanistan the same as spouses in its refugee program because same-sex marriage is illegal in Afghanistan.

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For most immigration purposes, a marriage must be legally recognized in the jurisdiction it took place for the individuals to be considered spouses. However, under former President Barack Obama, the State Department began allowing unmarried same-sex partners from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal to come in as P-3 refugees. P-3 status applies to the spouses, parents and unmarried children under age 21 of refugees and asylum-seekers from certain countries, including Afghanistan.

To get P-3 status for a same-sex partner to whom they are not married, refugees must demonstrate that they have been in a relationship for at least a year, that they consider the person to be their spouse or life partner, and that a legal marriage was not attainable due to legal or social prohibition.

A State Department official confirmed this remains the department's policy.

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