As many as 20 US senators have urged the Trump administration to grant emergency refugee protection to Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan facing persecution as religious minorities.
In a bipartisan letter addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the State Department to prioritise resettlement opportunities under the US Refugee Admissions Program allocation ceilings for Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities.
The population of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan have plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and more recent terrorist actions perpetrated by ISIS Khorasan (ISIS-K), they said.
This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority, the senators wrote.
Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities, they said in the letter.
The letter also calls on Pompeo to offer additional support to members of the Sikh and Hindu communities that choose to remain in Afghanistan, and to ensure that Afghan religious minorities benefit from the USD 20.6 million in American aid already provided to address COVID-19.
Ensuring that religious minorities receive US COVID-19 assistance should be a priority in all countries where protection of religious minorities is a challenge, the senators added.
The letter was written by senator Robert Menendez, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and senators Thom Tillis, Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Kamala Harris, Bob Casey, Chris Van Hollen, Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, Chris Coons, Ed Markey, Tammy Duckworth, Jack Reed, Mark Warner, Ben Cardin, and James Lankford.
ISIS-K targets religious minorities in Afghanistan and poses an existential threat to Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu communities in particular, the letter said.
The Sikh and Hindu communities once numbered around 250,000 people but now have fewer than 1,000 individuals due to decades of persecution, they added.
The communities continue to face discrimination in access to housing and employment, and the Taliban has previously mandated that Sikhs and Hindus wear yellow armbands or patches as a marker of their religious status, the senators wrote.
In recent years, a new threat to Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu communities has emerged: terrorist attacks from ISIS-K. In March, ISIS-K launched an attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul that killed 25 worshippers and later carried out an explosion during a funeral service for those victims.
As ISIS-K continues to attack civilians and international troops drawdown in Afghanistan, Sikhs and Hindus are likely to face more violence, they wrote.