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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that an Afghan man targeted by the Taliban because he assisted the U.S. military should not be expected to rely on the Afghan military to help him safely relocate inside Afghanistan.

The federal court ordered that the asylum case of Ezatulla Oryakhil be returned to the Immigration Court for review.

"From the record, we are not at all certain that a military relocation is possible for Oryakhil. In fact, Oryakhil presented ample evidence that military relocation would be impossible," Seventh Circuit Judge Michael S. Kanne wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that heard oral arguments in Oryakhil v. Mukasey.

Mr. Oryakhil entered the Afghan military in 1993 as a soldier and later became a teacher in the General Staff College, a military school supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the United States. In 2005, at the invitation of the U.S. military, Mr. Oryakhil came to the United States to participate in English language courses. Soon after Mr. Oryakhil returned to Afghanistan, Taliban soldiers began harassing his family and asking about his whereabouts. Heeding stories of other "disloyal" individuals who had been kidnapped by the Taliban, and concerned about the safety of his family, Mr. Oryakhil returned to the United States. When he arrived at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in September 2006 and asked for asylum, he was arrested by immigration agents and taken to a nearby county jail.

Mr. Oryakhil's asylum request was originally denied by an immigration judge who, despite finding that Mr. Oryakhil had proven he had a well-founded fear of future persecution based on political opinion and that he was likely to be persecuted if returned to Afghanistan, criticized Mr. Oryakhil's failure to ask the Afghan military for protection. The Seventh Circuit disagreed: "To expect Oryakhil, after several years of teaching, to revert to a soldier's lifestyle in a hostile, conflict-ridden region of Afghanistan-and to place his family in jeopardy by doing so-does not strike us as ‘reasonable.'"

Significantly, the court's ruling also recognizes that Afghan cultural constraints would make Mr. Oryakhil's relocation unreasonable, said Matt Pryor of Latham & Watkins LLP, one of the attorneys who provided pro bono representation for the case.

"In Afghanistan, men live with their families until they are married," he said. "The court recognized the social impact that Mr. Oryakhil would face if he were uprooted from his family and forced to live alone in another region of the country."

Mr. Oryakhil was released from detention in June 2008 following the Seventh Circuit ruling. His attorneys are now working to gain work authorization for him as he adjusts to life in the United States after nearly two years in detention.

 

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center is a Chicago-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to ensuring human rights protections and access to justice for all immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through a unique combination of direct services, policy reform, impact litigation and public education. For more information visit www.immigrantjustice.org