Detained Afghan Regugees Released
NEW YORK (AP) _ Spurred by appeals from three congressmen, the Immigration and Naturalization Service today released 31 Afghan refugees detained for as long as 11/2 years as illegal immigrants.
″I feel very happy, after 18 months, to come outside,″ said a grinning Mohan Singh, 16. ″I felt very bad inside.″
The Afghans waved small American flags and smiled broadly as they met relatives and reporters outside a detention center in lower Manhattan.
″The Soviets take my country. They killed my father and brother. They wanted to kill me,″ said Mohammed Ida, 22. ″So I come here because the U.S. government is kind to people.″
The releases culminated negotiations begun Thursday morning by Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Alfonse D’Amato and Rep. Gary Ackerman, all of New York.
″What we decided was that this was an appropriate time that they be paroled,″ said J. Scott Blackman, assistant district director of the INS.
The INS said Thursday that 32 Afghans were involved, but officials said today one had been released a day earlier in a separate action.
The agreement ended a struggle marked by legal fights, a hunger strike, a protest march and growing political pressure on the INS.
Arthur Helton, chief attorney for the refugees, said his group, the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights, had agreed to drop two lawsuits against the INS.
In exchange, he said, the parole would place the Afghans in a ″limbo″ giving them permanent refuge in the United States but no clear legal status.
INS agents apprehended the Afghans at airports as they tried to enter the country without proper documents. It ordered most returned to the countries from which they departed, in many cases Pakistan or India, but appeals have delayed the deportations.
Before the parole was announced, the INS said the Afghans created their own plight by trying to ″sneak ahead″ of refugees waiting for permission to enter the United States legally and accused them of using ″surreptitious means to short-circuit the existing refugee process abroad.″
Eighteen of the Afghans staged a hunger strike 10 months ago to draw attention to their cases, and about 25 supporters held a protest march last month.
While the Afghans were here illegally, said Moynihan, D-N.Y., ″there are special circumstances that obviously arise in the situation of Afghanistan,″ which the Soviet Union occupied in 1979. The refugees seek political asylum.
″These are people who ... have fought the cause of freedom. They have stood up against an oppressive regime. They have stood up against the might of the Soviet Union,″ said Ackerman, D-N.Y.