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Afghans in Spokane reflect on the situation in Afghanistan

Last week, we sat down with Sayed and Hashemi to hear their perspective on the situation in Afghanistan. Sayed and Hashemi had been friends for years before they each decided to move to the United States. They worked for the same company, contracted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Seven years ago, they came to Spokane on Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). Now, their relatives are trying to follow in their footsteps.

“Even with that government, we didn’t feel safe and we moved here,” Sayed said. “Now you see everything’s changing, and it’s much worse than even we were thinking.”

Nine years ago, Sayed was traveling in a car on a routine trip from Kabul to Ghazni when his vehicle struck another driven by Taliban fighters. Sayed said it was “good fortune” that the Taliban let them go – but he knew he had to leave Afghanistan. He arrived in the U.S. as an SIV a year and a half before Hashemi. With assistance from World Relief Spokane, he resettled in Spokane and has lived here ever since.

Hashemi did not have such a close call with the Taliban, but still felt unsafe in Afghanistan. Not only was he working for the U.S. government, but he and Sayed are also from the Hazaras ethnic group, who predominantly follow Shia Islam and have faced persecution for over a century.

“Many times, repeatedly, they [the Taliban] have mentioned killing Hazara people is allowed,” Hashemi said. “No limitation on it.”

Hashemi had also worked with local media in Afghanistan, so his “picture and name was everywhere.” This, in combination with his Hazara identity and connections to the U.S., made him decide to apply for an SIV. Hashemi came to Spokane with Sayed as a reference, and resettled here through our Resettlement and Placement (R&P) Program.

“Actually, it was not really hard,” he said about the SIV process. “It took just a year for me. But I know some people – they came earlier than me, when we have applied at the same time.”

Watching from Spokane

On August 30, 2021, the U.S. military ended its withdrawal from Afghanistan, finalizing Taliban control over the country. Sayed and Hashemi felt the effects of the takeover immediately. Both of their extended families still live in Afghanistan. Sayed has four sisters-in-law who worked in important academic and government positions in Kabul. Because the Taliban does not allow women to work, they have been forced to stay at home.

“Now, they all have no jobs,” he said. “And look at those four critical jobs, in a country like Afghanistan…it’s been two months. They haven’t received any income.”

Sayed said he tried to help his sister and sisters-in-law, but there are problems on both sides. He has applied for humanitarian parole for his family, but has to wait weeks to months to hear back. In Afghanistan, his relatives have experienced difficulty receiving the money he has sent them.

“They don’t have access to their bank account,” Sayed said. “Because, if you go to the bank, you can only withdraw 10,000 Afghani, which is less than $200.”

Other family members who were part of the Afghan military will not go to the bank at all, for fear of being spotted by the Taliban. Hashemi’s family is in a similar situation. One of his brothers had to leave Afghanistan and his family because he had previously spoken out against the Taliban. Another relative was killed while serving as a commander in the Afghan military.

Hashemi has also tried sending money to his family, but like Sayed, they have had problems with the bank.

“My wife’s niece, she is also a dentist, but now she lost her job,” he said. “And now, she is in Kabul, but not living at her dad’s house. In another part of Kabul. She is alone over there.

“Women, girls, they all lose their jobs. They stay home, like prisoners.”

Hashemi and Sayed agree that the hardships their families are facing are not unique to them. They believe all Afghan families are facing these problems, especially members of minority groups. One of their concerns is that when winter arrives, many families will not have the resources to take care of themselves.

“It’s more than a challenge,” Sayed said. “Especially when winter comes. It’s super cold, freezing, in Kabul, in most of the cities in Afghanistan. So they cannot supply their needs.”

Support from the community

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began and Spokane went into lockdown, the Afghan Jafaria community, which Sayed and Hashemi are part of, formed a connection with Shadle Park Presbyterian Church, one of our local church partners. They have a good relationship with Steve Lympus, the head pastor at Shadle Park.

“He’s helping us as much as he can,” Sayed said.

He and Hashemi both expressed appreciation for the support they have received from Shadle Park’s community. Hashemi said his American-born friends in Spokane often checked on him and his family.

“We have friends repeatedly asking how we can help you, financially,” he said. “They’re praying for us. A lot of people like that, living in Spokane. Thank you so much, to all Spokane.”

He and Sayed agreed that advocacy was crucial for them. They asked their neighbors in Spokane to address their local representatives and advocate increased support for Afghan allies.

“Physically we’re here, but mentally not,” Sayed said. “The situation affects our job, the quality of our job, the way we live here.

“I would ask people in Spokane to understand Afghans and the Afghan community, including the Jafaria community. Because if they understand, we can live better.”

Justin Li | 10/1/21

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