WASHINGTON – Taliban forces have captured the Afghan capital. There was a crowd of panicky people at the airport. And a young man who had served as a subcontractor for the US military was faced with a dire choice.
Hasibullah Hasrat, after navigating the chaotic streets and Taliban checkpoints to make it inside the airport, could either return to his wife and two young children or board an evacuation flight and receive them later. . Not taking flight meant that none of them would get out of Afghanistan.
Hasrat’s decision upsets her. He is in the US, one of more than 78,000 Afghans recruited into the country following the withdrawal of US forces in August, ending America’s longest war. But his family has not been able to join him. They are still in Afghanistan, where an economic crisis has caused widespread hunger and where Taliban repression is increasing.
“My wife is there alone,” he said, his voice cracking as he describes the phone call at night to the house. “My son cries, asks where am I, when am I coming. And I don’t know what to say. ,
It is a reminder that the journey of many Afghans who came to the United States in historic evacuations is a very progress in progress, fraught with uncertainty and anxiety about the future.
Afghan refugees, some of whom faced possible retaliation for working with their government or US military during the war with the Taliban, say in interviews they are grateful to the US for saving them and family members .
But they are often struggling to find a foothold in a new land, struggling to pay their bills in the form of aid from the government and resettlement agencies, stuck in temporary housing, and trying to figure out what to do. How to apply for asylum as most Afghans come under a two-year state of emergency known as humanitarian parole.
“We’re not sure what might have happened,” said Gulsam Esmaelzade, whose family has been locked up since January after spending three months at a New Jersey military base between hotel rooms in the San Diego area. “We have nothing at home in Afghanistan and we have no future here either.”
It has taken a toll. Esmaelzade said her mother had to be taken to the emergency room three times when her blood pressure rose to alarming levels. The young woman attributes this to the stress of her life.
Then there are the more mundane challenges that still remain daunting for many Afghans. These include learning English, navigating government bureaucracy and public transportation, and finding jobs.
There is isolation for those too, like Hasrat, who came alone. “I don’t know anyone here,” he said in the apartment outside Washington that he shares with two other evacuees. “I have no friends, no family, no relatives. I only live with my roommates and my roommates are from other parts of Afghanistan.
Some have managed to install. “But there are many more who are not doing well,” said Megan Flores, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Outreach Center in McLean, Virginia.
The experience of exiled Afghans in coming to the United States is not unlike what refugees have historically encountered. In some ways it’s a preview for up to 100,000 Ukrainians who, President Joe Biden says, would be welcome, in many cases even on two-year humanitarian parole.
Afghans on humanitarian parole must apply for a way of living in the country through asylum. This is a time-consuming process that typically requires finding an immigration attorney at a cost of thousands of dollars, which is not readily available to most refugees unless they can find someone to do it for free. Can’t find
The Department of Homeland Security says that about half of the 78,000 will eventually qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, program. It provides permanent residency to people with their immediate family, who worked for the US government. Hasrat has not been able to secure an SIV, at least yet, despite his work as a subcontractor installing transmission lines for the US military.
Congress could resolve the situation by passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would enable people from Iraq, Cuba and Vietnam to apply for permanent residency after one year in the country, similar to relief granted in the past. Biden recently boosted the effort when he backed the idea of adding it to an upcoming Ukraine aid bill, a move welcomed by a coalition that includes veterans, religious organizations and rehabilitation agencies.
“They are facing a ticking time bomb of what will happen if they don’t get SIV or asylum status,” said Krish O’Mara Vignaraja, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “Are they sent back to Afghanistan and harmed?”
Meanwhile, Afghans are trying to weave new life together as public attention shifts to Ukraine and other matters. At a recent job fair in Alexandria, Virginia, hundreds of people were evacuated, including Arafat Safi, a former senior Afghan foreign ministry official who had come to the US with his wife, four children and mother.
He’s hoping to get a job in project management or international development, to use an education that includes a master’s degree from the UK. So far, he’s landed a position as a Pashto-English interpreter and Amazon while his wife, Medina, works in the bakery section of a supermarket.
Safi said he still hopes to get a better job and is looking forward to getting permanent residency. But he never complained in a long interview at the family apartment in Alexandria. An intricate and vibrant afghan rug—brought from home the only possession of the family—holds a prominent place in the living room.
“I am so lucky to be here that American society has welcomed me. I have met a lot of friends here who are watching over me almost every day,” said 35-year-old Safdie. “And it is amazing. But there is a small part of me who misses Afghanistan and he misses my people.”
Hasrat said he had little time to think about anything other than the threat from his family and the Taliban. A 29-year-old former competitive boxer, he rides a bike to his job as an administrative assistant in a medical office. After the taxes and money he sends home, he hardly has any money to pay his bills. Their roommates, who are still learning English, have even less and have trouble paying rent.
Most nights, Hasrat waits until it is long enough to video chat with his family. On a recent call, he tried to attend the birthday celebrations of his kids, but was saddened to learn that his daughter doesn’t even know him.
“I’m telling them, ‘Yes, I’m happy,’ because if I told them my situation here they would be sad,” he said. “But if you have no one to take care of your wife, how can you be happy?”
Watson reported from San Diego.