Immigration attorneys in San Francisco are facing a flood of questions with no easy answers about how to help families reunite with relatives who are struggling to leave Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the capital city of Kabul on Sunday.
“We have been receiving tons of calls and messages from the people in the Afghan community in the Bay Area and beyond. All of their questions are about how to assist their family to get out of Afghanistan,” said Morsal Sais, a legal service provider at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center in San Francisco. “Some are fearing to lose their lives and others are afraid their family members will be forced into marriages.”
But with delays in the embassy dating back several years and banks currently closed in Afghanistan, she said many are struggling to navigate potential sponsorships or even transfer money to relatives.
“At the moment we can only assist with family-based immigration petitions,” said Sais, who grew up in Afghanistan before moving to the Bay Area in 2012. “The main challenge right now is we need to expedite this process.”
One of the places that could see an influx of refugees is Fremont’s Little Kabul, which is home to one of the largest Afghan communities in the United States. There, thousands of Afghan Americans are still reeling with anger and sadness after events in Afghanistan escalated over the weekend.
“Last few days have been really harsh. You can’t avoid it. It’s all over the news and social media,” said Jayhoon Fedaiy, who was born in Afghanistan before moving to Fremont and now lives near South Beach in San Francisco with his wife and children.
Like many Afghan Americans in San Francisco and beyond, Fedaiy has family members who are still living in Afghanistan. He worries over what’s to come.
“One of my oldest aunties who is in her 80s lives there now. She never left, she has always been there with her son and daughters,” he said. “We are constantly in touch, but there have been issues with electricity so it’s been hard to reach them the last few days.”
According to a recent U.N. report, more women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since 2009.
“It’s been a very hard few days for everyone. I have family back home and I’m getting messages like, ‘please don’t forget about us,’” said Freshta Kohgadai, who was born in Afghanistan and moved to the Bay Area as an infant. “Please be our voice. You are the ones with the freedom, we’re not.”
In between moments of grief and heartache, Kohgadai is staying focused on defeating the sense of hopelessness that’s felt among Afghans in San Francisco and allies wondering how they can help.
She and others have been organizing rallies and protests to put pressure on the local and international community to step up assistance for Afghan civilians in the weeks since President Joe Biden announced that U.S. military troops would withdraw from Afghanistan after 20 years.
Protests erupted on Monday across the including in front of the White House where more than 300 Afghan Americans spoke out against the Taliban taking power. In the Bay Area, demonstrations have been taking place throughout the summer as well.
Now as tensions run high, local activists are preparing for a march on Aug. 28, at 2 p.m. in San Francsico at Union Square. On the same day, marches are slated to take place in cities across the globe.
Other opportunities to support include donating to a GoFundMe for displaced families in Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Crisis Emergency Appeal, and the Baitulmaal Relief Fund. In addition, organizations such as the Bay Area Afghan Coalition provide services for the Bay Area Afghan community, and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center provides legal aid to families looking to reunite with and support relatives in Afghanistan.
Sais, the legal aid provider, said applying pressure to keep the Afghanistan and U.S. embassy open to facilitate processing for refugees will also be key to supporting families on the ground.
For Kohgadai, a primary goal for the action will be to let residents and local officials know that there is still time to act. In particular, she wants to see the U.S. and other actors to apply diplomatic sanctions on Pakistani and Saudi governments, which have provided training and funding to the Taliban, rather than further military invasions.
“Calling it a civil war is dangerous because this was never Afghanistan’s war to begin with,” she said, referring to President Biden’s speech on Monday where he defended his decision to pull out U.S. troops. “One of the main reasons everyone is so hurt by the way Biden is doing things is that there was no warning. The bases were left, and once the Taliban heard that, they came over, that was their green light.”
Fedaiy, the father in San Francisco, said he will be at the march on Aug. 28.
“I was much younger 20 years ago, and our country went through hell. But from the darkness there was hope. Women’s rights and education have had a lot of progress there,” Fedaiy said. “Every little bit counts. You can sit somewhere and watch the news or you can raise your voice so people around the globe can see people really do care outside of Afghanistan.”