Pro Bono

Scores of lawyers work to gain temporary legal status for 250 female judges in Afghanistan

  • Print

Afghans waiting in lines at the Kabul airport

Afghans gathered at the international airport in Kabul in August, hoping to escape the country. (AP photo)

Lawyers from some of the nation’s largest law firms are working to help win temporary legal status for 250 female judges who feared for their lives in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal earlier this year.

The International Association of Women Judges is coordinating pro bono efforts with DLA Piper, which has referred cases to Vinson & Elkins; Debevoise & Plimpton; and Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, Reuters reports.

Also working on behalf of the Afghan judges are lawyers from smaller firms and other organizations, according to Reuters.

So far, 150 judges and their families have been able to leave Afghanistan, but they are “in legal limbo” in other countries, according to Reuters. Only four judges had entered the United States as of mid-December. Another 95 judges in Afghanistan are actively trying to leave.

One of the judges, Maryam Helal, is in Greece on a 60-day visa. She told Reuters in an email that her family is in difficult circumstances.

“We do not have food, clothes and a suitable place. We do not have access to medical services,” Helal said.

Her lawyer, Vinson & Elkins associate Simon Willis, told Reuters that Helal may have to relocate to a refugee camp when her Greek visa lapses.

Some judges are seeking humanitarian parole through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which would allow them to stay here temporarily as they seek permanent status. Lawyers say the USCIS has been slow in approving applications, although the service is adding staff members to help deal with the uptick in requests.

Willis has asked the United States for humanitarian parole for Helal but was still awaiting an answer in mid-December.

ABA President Reginald Turner wrote Secretary of State Antony Blinken Sept. 23 to express strong ABA support for U.S. efforts to facilitate evacuation of lawyers and judges at risk in Afghanistan.

Turner said it is “important that the judges and lawyers—especially women judges and lawyers, who remain in the crosshairs of the Taliban—be assisted in their efforts to find sanctuary outside that country.”

See also: “ABA president condemns recent events in Afghanistan”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.