As the United States withdrew forces last August in the final days of the 2001-2021 Afghanistan War, the Taliban swiftly seized control over the capital city of Kabul and the rest of the country. Allied troops were left to secure the only exit out—Kabul Airport—as they scrambled to evacuate their own citizens and personnel. As allied troops departed, the Taliban began to gain control of the airport, attacking and firing upon the hundreds of thousands of Afghan people desperately trying to get on any plane out of Afghanistan, risking their lives and separation from their families to seek refuge in unknown destinations.

A year later, Davis Polk remains deeply involved in a multitude of efforts to aid refugees of this crisis. These are several of them:

Afghan refugee camps at Marine Corps Base Quantico

As the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, they hurriedly evacuated nearly 100,000 people from Kabul Airport on military planes, delivering them to the United States where, in this chaotic and unprecedented situation, they were held at makeshift camps on select military bases. Marine Corps Base Quantico in Quantico, Virginia, was home to one of the largest camps, housing approximately 2,000 refugees at its peak occupancy. At these bases, refugees waited to be processed by the U.S. government and receive assistance from resettlement agencies, but neither the military nor the resettlement agencies were equipped to adequately handle this rapid influx of refugees. Quite quickly, private citizens and companies were called upon to help serve the refugee populations at each camp.

Between September and December 2021, in partnership with immigrant rights groups, Davis Polk lawyers and pro bono staff repeatedly traveled to Quantico to meet with Afghan refugees and answer their many questions, host large-scale legal orientation presentations, provide trainings to other volunteers, and directly assist individuals with their refugee and asylum applications. The camps were comprised of simple canvas tent structures hastily constructed without running water or access to computers or

printers. Refugees were cramped in tent-like barracks and had limited resources and information about their situation. Many lacked the ability to complete any legal applications in English. After several visits, volunteers were able to secure computers, printers, and immigration applications with their translated versions to assist the Afghan refugees. Over the course of three months, Davis Polk directly assisted over 100 refugees housed at Quantico and provided general legal orientation to hundreds more.

The New York Times Afghan Asylum Project

Amid the Taliban’s violent and chaotic takeover of Afghanistan, the New York Times swiftly and strategically evacuated their entire Kabul bureau staff out of the country, protecting them from the terrorist group’s methodical and targeted executions of journalists. As a leader in western media, the Times and its employees had been at significantly heightened risk even before the Taliban’s takeover, regularly receiving direct threats that put even those associated with them in danger. After a harrowing escape from Kabul, the staff and their families safely made it to the United States where they were immediately provided support.

The New York Times Afghan Asylum Project was established to aid this group of refugees in securing asylum in the United States. Davis Polk is proud to be one of the central firms in what is now regarded as a model coordinated rapid-response project; it’s been made possible with guidance from a New York Times immigration consultant, expertise from the Cabrini Center at Catholic Charities of Houston, and commitment from several other law firms. The collaboration across many of our offices has made this effort even more exciting—lawyers participating in this project are located in New York, Northern California, Washington DC, London, Madrid, Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Diplomats to the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

A team of Davis Polk lawyers in New York, Washington DC and Hong Kong are collaborating with Human Rights First to aid diplomats to the former democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s mission in the United States. These individuals have been put in a uniquely precarious position—as recent representatives of the democratic, U.S.-supported Afghan government, Afghan diplomats in the United States were powerless to stop the rapid Taliban coup in Afghanistan and found themselves suddenly without a legitimate government to represent.

Without a government-in-exile, and without legitimacy granted to the Taliban, Afghan diplomats were caught in a diplomatic grey area, unable to represent the democratic government, and unwilling to represent the Taliban. As a result, they risk being declared personae non gratae by the U.S. government, which would revoke their diplomatic status and trigger their expulsion to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has threatened to execute them upon arrival. Davis Polk is representing these Afghan diplomats with consideration for political asylum and special programs for diplomatic defection.

Persecuted LGBTQ+ individuals in need of asylum

In nearly 80 countries, LGBTQ+ people are criminalized by law or live with the constant fear of extreme violence and even death.

In many of these countries, LGBTQ+ people not only fear vigilante violence, but also legal consequences like incarceration, involuntary mental health institutionalization, involuntary castration and the death penalty. We partner with legal services organizations including Immigration Equality and Human Rights First to represent LGBTQ+ refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States. We recently won asylum for a bisexual political activist from Egypt involved with the Arab Spring, who had been targeted by the government’s anti-LGBTQ “debauchery” laws. We are currently representing a gay man from Kenya who was arrested for the crime of “homosexuality” and was almost burned alive by a vigilante group. Recently, we’ve hosted two LGBTQ+ asylum clinics and assisted over a dozen LGBTQ+ clients from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Ecuador, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Syria, Egypt and Russia. More than 70 of our lawyers have been involved in this work.

Refugees from Ukraine

We have been working with partner organizations to closely monitor the humanitarian emergency resulting from the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian citizens who have fled the war and have arrived in the United States are eligible for legal protections. In July, we held two clinics to provide legal assistance to Ukrainian refugees in the United States. We hosted a virtual clinic in partnership with New York Legal Assistance Group and client Bank of America, and we hosted an in-person clinic at the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a vibrant hub for Ukrainians in New York City. We will continue to monitor the refugee situation both in the United States and in Europe and may offer additional programs to support Ukrainian refugees.