Local News

As Afghan refugees arrive in California, many remain trapped and in danger back home

Fatima is an Afghan American woman living in Orange County who is afraid for her family who are still in Afghanistan. She is not alone.

As Afghan refugees begin to arrive in various American cities, Afghans who live here live in uncertainty and fear for those who were not evacuated when the Taliban took power in August.

Fatima’s mother was the head teacher of a girls school in Kabul. Her sister was a lecturer at the University of Kabul. Since the Taliban took power, her mother and her sister have not been able to return to work and her whole family lives in fear for their lives.

“They are in a state of survival. They are scared for their lives,” she said.

Fatima, who was born during the SovietAfghan war, fled to Pakistan, then to England where she earned her Master’s degree in psychology. She got married in 2020 and moved to America.

“I want to raise my voice for those girls and women in Afghanistan. This is the 21st century and everybody has to have basic human rights,” she said.

Khaled is another Afghan American living in Orange County who owns a media company and a record label that represents Afghan artists.

“Unfortunately, with the Taliban in power now artists can’t even come out of their homes,” Khaled said. “I’m getting a lot of calls from artists I have signed who are crying, saying we have worked for the past 20 years to make a career for ourselves and we cannot do anything. They have prohibited popular music so they are in hiding right now.”

Khaled was born in Afghanistan. He worked for Tolo TV, one of the most prominent TV stations in Afghanistan. He left Afghanistan in 2011 and applied for asylum in America.

His brother, a journalist, is in hiding and also afraid for his life.

“The Taliban are searching homes every night taking out artists, journalists, and women activists. They take them away and beat them and kill them,” he said. “For women, for journalists, for artists it’s like everything is gone.”

Khaled says he has tried to contact and get support from congressmembers but has not gotten any help.

Fatah, born in Afghanistan, is a journalist in Orange County.

“My dad was a senator for 27 years in Afghanistan. When the mujahideen regime came to power in Afghanistan, they killed my seven brothers and 275 members of my family,” he said.

His father refused to work with the communist Soviet government. In 1991, Fatah and his family fled to Germany, then to the United States.

He came to the US in 2004 with his wife and four children. He worked with the US military as an interpreter and a cultural advisor. In 2013, he moved to Orange County. Now he hosts a show on Ariana TV, an Afghan American network.

“The purpose of the show is I want to change the lives of people because many are so depressed,” Fatah said. “My show is about positivity and peace. I work with some charities helping poor women and children in Afghanistan.”

Since the Taliban took over, Fatah has been trying to help Afghans to get their immigration paperwork to get out.

“I try, but it is not in my hands,” he said. “I only work with the paperwork. I’ve talked with congressmembers, but no one is helping me. There are still thousands in Kabul and nobody is helping them. People contact me saying, ‘Please help me. Please take me out of Afghanistan. Take me out of Kabul. Every day they are coming and searching our houses.’ If someone used to work with the former government, they take them away and they do not come back.”

When asked what Americans should do, Fatah said, “We have to recognize how bad it is in Afghanistan. Women cannot go outside. Women cannot work. We need the American government to bring them here.”

Ghezal is the wife of Qaisar Waheed Shabir, Imam of the Islamic Center of Fullerton. She is part of the Afghan diaspora who escaped during the SovietAfghan War. When her father refused to work with the communist government, her family fled.

“We escaped in the middle of the night, and we traveled through the Hindu Kush mountains on donkeys,” she said. “I was four years old. I have memories of losing my shoe when I fell off my donkey. It was very cold and we escaped through the mountains for 12 days to reach Pakistan. We could literally hear the Russian rockets while we were escaping.”

She remembers the hospitality of the poor people they encountered in the mountains.“They would slaughter their last animal for us,” she said.

Her family escaped to Pakistan, and then to Germany. “A lot of the diaspora went to Germany because they had a more open immigration policy,” she said.

Eventually, her family immigrated to the United States. Ghezal, who still has family in Afghanistan, says that the Taliban are “outside the fold of Islam.”

“You’re not allowed to decapitate a head in Islam. You’re not allowed to torture. You’re not allowed to punish anybody during a time of war and poverty,” she said. “Islam does not require women to cover their faces and not be a part of society. The prophet Muhammad’s first wife was a businesswoman. His last wife used to give public lectures. Yet the Taliban took out all the female teachers.”

Ghezal, and every Afghan American interviewed for this article, wants Americans to know about the atrocities and persecution the Taliban is committing against women and ethnic minorities like the Tajiks and the Hazaras, in places like Panjshir province. Many of them pointed to the involvement of Pakistan in supporting the Taliban. Abdul Jabbar Memon, Consul General of Pakistan in Los Angeles has denied any direct involvement except protecting their border.

“As someone from the diaspora, when you become a refugee, it’s not like you’re going somewhere to make a permanent home. You’re usually thinking that if the situation improves, you’re going to go back,” she said. “To the international community, I would say to raise your voices and make sure the humanitarian aid does not stop.”

The Islamic Center of Fullerton was originally composed of Muslim Vietnamese, many of whom were refugees from the Vietnam War. “Many were refugees, so they really understand the plight of the refugee,” Imam Qaisar said.

Access California Services in Anaheim provides aid to newly-arriving Afghan refugees. Photo courtesy of Access California Services.

Aid for Refugees

Access California Services (ACS) is a nonprofit in Anaheim helping with refugee aid and resettlement services.

According to Nahla Kayali, Director of ACS, around 5,000 Afghan refugees are expected to arrive in California. About 200 of these will be resettled in Orange County.

“We help them with employment, ESL classes, housing, and finding jobs,” Kayali said.

The biggest need for Afghan refugees is housing. “To get an apartment here you have to have a good credit score, a cosigner, and a good amount of money in the bank,” Kayali said. “These refugees probably don’t have those things, so it’s hard for them to find housing. We’re working to find solutions to these challenges.”

Those who wish to help Afghan refugees may contact Access California Services or the Islamic Center of Fullerton.

Access California Services:

(714) 917-0440

www.accesscal.org

Islamic Center of Fullerton:

(714) 519-3599

www.fullertonmasjid.org

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