More than 80 people from the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization Afghanistan Dental Relief Project are frantically awaiting visa approvals to flee Kabul in Afghanistan.
The airport at Kabul has been a scene of chaos in recent days with a massive airlift effort to evacuate people from the city and a deadly suicide bombing that killed more than 170 people, including American military personnel, according to international media reports.
James Rolfe, the ADRP founder who is currently working out of his office in Santa Barbara, spent $1.4 million out of his own pocket to build dental clinics in Afghanistan and train dentists in hopes of developing infrastructure and dental care in the country, Rolfe told Noozhawk.
“Now all these people who I’ve trained, and all these people who have been involved in the project trying to help the Afghan people, are scared for their lives,” he said. “We’re getting like 50 WhatsApp communications every 10 minutes, coordinating with military personnel, and trying to get these visas approved.”
As seen circulating in heart-wrenching, devastating videos and photos, the Taliban has surrounded the airport in Kabul, making getting through the checkpoints extremely difficult for those trying to flee, Rolfe said.
The Taliban is requiring people to have approved visas to get through the checkpoints, and as far as Rolfe knows, there are no approved visa applications for people who are working for non-governmental organizations overseas.
The last Rolfe heard, they are now checking for application documents so that those who have filed the P2 visa paperwork might be able to get through the checkpoints without the actual approved visas, he said.
Rolfe sent five of his people as a test to see if they could get through the checkpoints and through the gate with just the application documents, and if successful, those five will call Rolfe and he will send word for the rest of the 25 employees and their families to make the dangerous trek to the airport, he said.
“We’re really just testing the waters, very cautiously, but trying to get our people out as fast as we can,” he added. “We’re calling congress people and everybody we can think of to try and intersect to help our people get home, but the state department and our whole government was really caught with their pants down here.”
Rolfe said that the ADRP staff in Afghanistan are extremely worried because they have received death threats, and even their family members have received death threats.
Rolfe said at this point, he is telling his people to pack up and be ready to go, and when the time comes, Rolfe and ADRP will tell them how to safely get to the airport checkpoints and through the gate.
Rolfe is unsure of the fate of the ADRP clinic in Afghanistan, which will probably be abandoned because of President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 “unrealistic” deadline to get everyone out, he said.
Rolfe has dedicated the past 18 years to this work, and the ADRP now has over 200,000 trained staff consisting of dentists, dental assistants, dental hygienists, patient coordinators, and a technical team. The project provides free basic treatment at no cost to over 20,000 poor Afghans each year, according to Rolfe.
The Mayors Migration Council board recently issued a statement calling on national governments to immediately open their doors to Afghan refugees and provide the resources needed to facilitate resettlement.
“We are deeply saddened by the situation in Afghanistan, which exacerbates one of the world’s longest standing humanitarian and displacement crises. In the past two months, 300,000 Afghans have fled their homes in search of safe havens or a way out,” the statement read.
“They join six million Afghan refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons (IDPs) already forced to move by decades of conflict and with little hope for return. Most of those fleeing Afghanistan now are women whose rights and freedoms are further at risk and children whose futures are now in jeopardy.”
Nearly 60 mayors from all across the globe have signed on, including three California mayors as of Friday: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.