A new House Republican bill would prohibit the U.S. government from charging U.S. citizens for their evacuation or repatriation flights out of Afghanistan, a response to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul telling evacuees to sign a form promising to pay up to $2,000 or more to get out of the country.
Rep. Claudia Tenney of New York, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she introduced the Flights for Freedom Act on Tuesday, which her office said: “Ensures that the United States government will not charge U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents for evacuation or repatriation flights out of Afghanistan now or any time in the future.” Both before and after the fall of Kabul, the United States had instructed evacuees to fill out a form promising they would pay $2,000 or more for their flight out of Afghanistan, even after the Taliban takeover, only updating the form over the weekend.
The bill would codify what already-stated policy.
“In these unique circumstances, we have no intention of seeking any reimbursement from those fleeing Afghanistan,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told the Washington Examiner on Thursday.
“The thousands of Americans left behind in Afghanistan by the Biden administration already fear for their lives,” Tenney said Tuesday. “They should not be forced by the U.S. government to finance their own lifesaving flights out of the country.”
The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Mast of Florida and Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin, would require Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “waive any expenses related to the evacuation and repatriation of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents for the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” according to Tenney’s office. It also “annuls any promissory note or obligation made to repay the costs” of a U.S. citizen getting out of Afghanistan and “prohibits any federal official or employee from soliciting or accepting funds” for the Afghan evacuation of U.S. citizens.
After the State Department issued an alert over a week ago saying U.S. citizens could have to pay for evacuation flights out of Afghanistan, a report indicated people hoping to escape are being asked to pay up. Although U.S. officials told Politico evacuation flights out of Kabul would be free, its National Security Daily newsletter reported some sources said otherwise — including one who said State Department staff were asking for up to $2,000 per U.S. citizen and more from noncitizens.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday the U.S. had evacuated 70,700 people since Aug. 14 and 75,900 since the end of July.
A security alert on “Repatriation Assistance for U.S. Citizens” published on the website of the Overseas Security Advisory Council, part of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, was published on Aug. 14 — one day before the Taliban swept into Kabul — and encouraged U.S. citizens to take advantage of commercial flights while they remained an option, offering guidance on eligibility requirements for those who sought charter flights.
One part of the alert said: “Repatriation flights are not free, and passengers will be required to sign a promissory loan agreement and may not be eligible to renew their U.S. passports until the loan is repaid. The cost may be $2,000USD or more per person.”
A separate State Department webpage stated, “Regardless of the method of transportation, or who provides it, U.S. citizens (and others who are eligible for U.S. government assistance) are generally responsible for reimbursing the government for the cost of their travel.”
The U.S. Embassy was abandoned over a week ago. Hamid Karzai International Airport erupted into chaos as crowds of Afghans attempted to flee when the Taliban marched into Kabul last Sunday following an ill-planned U.S. military withdrawal.
Thousands of U.S. troops had to be sent back into the country to assist with the evacuation and protect the airport, with the Taliban just outside the perimeter and thousands of Americans and Afghan allies stuck outside. There have been numerous reports of the Taliban preventing U.S. citizens and Afghan allies from reaching the airport, and the threat of an ISIS-K terrorist attack has come to the forefront.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned people last Wednesday the U.S. government “cannot ensure safe passage” to the airport for evacuation. The bulletin also included a message about every American citizen needing to fill out a “Repatriation Assistance Request” form.
The second page of the form tells each applicant evacuation flights are not free, and the cost could exceed $2,000 per person. Each U.S. citizen was prompted to fill out a checklist to say he or she understands the conditions or chooses not to continue with filling out the form.
The Afghanistan Evacuation webpage on the State Department website also included a link to the Repatriation Assistance Request form with a promise to pay.
The form was still accessible and live on the webpage for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul as of late Thursday evening, the Daily Caller reported. The Washington Examiner found an information page on the State Department’s main website dated Thursday that also directed people to fill out the form. As of Friday night in the U.S. and Saturday morning in Afghanistan, the requirement to pay was still there.
It was Saturday morning in the U.S. (or Saturday evening in Afghanistan) that the “U.S. Embassy Kabul Repatriation Assistance Request 2021” form was finally changed to no longer include a requirement to agree to pay $2,000 or more. Tenney’s legislation would set that in stone.