- Community Impact
- Graduate School of Public and International Affairs
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Now that Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban, hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens are in danger due to their work on U.S. development and military programs over the past 20 years. Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, associate professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, is working to help Afghans who supported the U.S./NATO mission apply for asylum in the U.S.
The U.S. government has provided resettlement assistance to U.S. military translators, and recently the State Department has expanded this program to include Afghan citizens who worked on U.S.-supported civilian and development projects. To qualify, they need documents from former employers.
“The genesis of this project came from the rapid increase in requests to provide assistance connecting Afghans to former employers in the U.S. after the P2 visa program was expanded last week. My email and messaging systems blew up,” said Murtazashvili, who is also director of Pitt’s Center for Governance and Markets. “These Afghan citizens who worked with us and stood by the United States are at enormous threat due to the rapid Taliban advances throughout the country. Many of these people worked quite hard and made sizable sacrifices for our development efforts in Afghanistan.”
More than 40 volunteers are supporting this effort, with a core group of 20 Pitt students leading the way. Murtazashvili has received hundreds of requests for assistance, with the number growing by the hour.
Those who qualify for assistance are looking for help obtaining letters of support from their former employers, a document that is necessary to apply for resettlement through the visa program. However, over the course of 20 years, many people lost touch with their employers. In some cases, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) or contractors went out of business or merged with other organizations.
“It is very hard for our colleagues in Afghanistan to navigate this during heightened conflict, and the system can be difficult to navigate,” Murtazashvili said. “We are looking for volunteers to help us connect Afghanistan citizens with former employers in the U.S. to obtain these letters. We anticipate the numbers asking for assistance will skyrocket in the coming weeks as fighting intensifies around the country.”
In addition to these efforts, Murtazashvili is also looking to bring at-risk Afghan academics to Pittsburgh. The first scholar will be arriving as soon as he is able to leave conflict-stricken Kabul.
Volunteers are being asked to give five to 10 hours a week to assist with handling the deluge of queries, serving as a liaison between people in Afghanistan and NGOs, the State Department and other contractors who worked in Afghanistan.
To reach the team working on these efforts, email CGM [at] pitt.edu or call 412-648-7195.
Help for veterans
Pitt’s Office of Veterans Services (OVS) is available to help all veteran students and their families. For those struggling with the events in Afghanistan, OVS Director Aryanna Hunter also suggests contacting the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 or the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh at 412-360-6600.
— Katie Weidenboerner Deppen