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Regional Interests

‘Devastated and Exhausted’: Afghan Community Marches in Fremont

Nearly a week after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, Afghan Americans in the Bay Area are feeling the toll of the crisis. Many local Afghan Americans are asking elected officials and residents to support those seeking refuge in the United States.

“I have people contacting me just because I’m a lawyer,” Roya Massoumi said. She is an Afghan American attorney working on employment discrimination issues in the U.S. The past week, she’s barely slept and her phone has been inundated with messages from people who are trapped in Afghanistan attempting to leave.

Instead of sitting at home, she decided to organize a protest in Fremont.

Dozens of Afghan Americans and their allies showed up in Fremont on Saturday, demanding local representatives pressure President Biden to keep the Kabul Airport open beyond his initial August 31 deadline.

The stakes are high: People have told Massoumi, “‘I’m lesbian, I’m gay, I’m a musician, I’ve gotten death threats from the Taliban.’” Some are U.S. citizens, have green cards or qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa, while others don’t qualify under the current visa system, yet fear for their lives. Massoumi would like to see a new visa category allowing more people to qualify for a visa.

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Hayward Mayor Pro Tempore Aisha Wahab, the first Afghan American woman elected to public office in the U.S. said people can support by uplifting Afghan voices. “Repost what we’re sharing. Make sure our voice does not die,” she said.

But she also noted that it’s important to support people in the long term. “How are we going to make sure that the Afghans that do come here are still supported, not just dropped off here.”

Wahab believes everyone has a role to play. “It’s literally just being kind, compassionate and asking how you can help,” she said. “Sharing and understanding our pain and making sure that this conversation doesn’t die when the media stops paying attention to it.”

The city of Hayward has set up a webpage with information on Afghan relief efforts and Fremont has a relief fund where residents can donate to support new arrivals.

Muzhdah Aziz, who lives and works in Fremont, also attended the march and rally to show support for her brother-in-law who is currently stuck in Afghanistan. Her sister, who is now four months pregnant, returned to the Bay Area from Afghanistan a month ago.

After a long afternoon of marching in the sun, Layla, Ali, Aziza, Lina and Roshan (who did not give their last name) rest together in the shade at Thornton Jr. High in Fremont on August 21, 2021. (Annelise Finney/KQED)

“He has a baby on the way and he’s fighting every day, standing at the airport, getting beaten by the Taliban, just to come here to be with my sister,” she said. “We’re just trying to show our support.” Her parents left Afghanistan 20 years ago. But the stress of watching from afar has taken a toll on her.

Aziz said, many of her friends and family members feel a sense of devastation, “we are all devastated and exhausted mentally because we feel so helpless,” Aziz said. “They have their visas in hand. They have their paperwork but they can’t go through.”

Jane Pak, who works for Refugee and Immigrant Transitions based in Oakland also attended the march and said it’s important to support community members with loved ones in Afghanistan.

“We’re here to support our Afghan community,” Pak said. She also emphasized ensuring protections for women, children and human rights defenders fleeing Afghanistan.

On Friday afternoon, Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee briefly answered questions on the current situation in Afghanistan after an unrelated Berkeley event. “I’m very focused on evacuation, making sure that our diplomats, American citizens, Afghan allies, women and children are protected,” she said.

Lee has the distinction of being the only member of congress who rejected open-ended authorization of military force in Afghanistan in 2001.

“I feel almost the same way I felt 20 years ago, worried in many ways [and] sad from what I see taking place, but also recognizing that my job right now is to make sure that we save lives and get people out,” she said.

Also on Friday, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell held a press conference moderated by Harris Mojadedi, who has been working with the Afghan Coalition in the Bay Area share information on what’s happening and advocate for Afghans Americans relatives abroad. Swalwell said as of Thursday approximately 6,000 U.S. military personnel were at the airport to provide peacekeeping and safe passage for Americans and that as of Thursday evening, there were approximately 4-5,000 people inside the airport waiting for their flights to take off.

As of Sunday morning, a panicked crush of people trying to enter Kabul’s international airport killed seven Afghan civilians in the crowds, the British military reported Sunday, showing the danger still posed to those trying to flee the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

The U.S. military is considering “creative ways” to get Americans and others into the Kabul airport for evacuation from Afghanistan amid “acute” security threats, Biden administration officials said, and the Pentagon on Sunday ordered six U.S. commercial airlines to help move evacuees from temporary sites outside of Afghanistan.

“Once people come here,” Swallwell said, “I think that’s where we can show the best of our community to people who are going through the worst experience of their lives.”

Additional Resources:

Representative Swalwell recommends reaching out to his office for those who have already filed paperwork: CA15AfghanCases@mail.house.gov

For those wishing to bring a relative to the United States, information can be found on the USCIS website here.

KQED’s Annelise Finney, Juan Carlos Lara, and Beth LaBerge contributed to this report. This post includes additional reporting from The Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 KQED