East Bay Afghan residents process grief amid rush to resettle refugees

East Bay Afghan residents process grief amid rush to resettle refugees

U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, load people being evacuated from Afghanistan onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. Credit: Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air Force via AP

Ali Salahi is one of an estimated 60,000 people of Afghan descent who live in the San Francisco Bay Area. His father, Rasul Salahi, fled Afghanistan in the 1980s during the Soviet Union’s invasion and opened Rasul Oriental Rugs on Grand Avenue in 1996, the same year that the Taliban first took power in Afghanistan. Although Oakland became the family’s home, Salahi said that part of their identity remains in Afghanistan.

“What I believe to be the consensus of the Afghan diaspora is that we’re all deeply invested in what’s happening in Afghanistan” Salahi told The Oaklandside, “and I think in some sense, a lot of us haven’t fully left, even those like myself who have never been.”

Salahi said the last couple of weeks have been especially heartbreaking for his family as relatives still in Afghanistan relay personal accounts of the fear gripping Kabul and other parts of the country as the Taliban regains control.

The family checks in daily with relatives in Afghanistan via messaging apps. According to Salahi, both his mother and father’s family are safe, but frightened. “They’re shutting their doors and haven’t left their home for days now,” Salahi said. “They’ve overnight lost the right to vote, to a free press, to free speech.”

Tens of thousands of Afghans have been scrambling to evacuate the country since the beginning of August, and U.S airlift out of the main international airport in Kabul have been bottlenecked. Currently, about 28,000 Afghans have fled, and more than 17,000 are planning to resettle in the U.S through the Special Immigrant Visa Program, or SIV.

The Taliban’s return to power raises concerns about human rights violations

The Taliban took control of the capital city of Kabul on Sunday, Aug. 15th, less than two weeks after President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of all U.S troops stationed in Afghanistan. Prior to Biden taking office, the Trump administration signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in February of last year, agreeing to withdraw all U.S troops from the country by May 2021. On April 11, Biden announced plans to remove all military presence before Sept. 11.

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul on Aug. 15, recently resurfacing in the United Arab Emirates. Ghani’s abrupt departure led thousands of Kabul residents to rush to Hamid Karzai International Airport to flee the country; The United States and other foreign nations also began the process of evacuating their embassy personnel.

Taliban forces quickly seized Kandahar and Herat on Aug. 12, the second and third-largest cities in Afghanistan, respectively.

When the Taliban last governed Afghanistan (1996–2001), women and girls were forbidden to work or attend school. There is concern that this history will be repeated, despite recent claims by Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen that the group has changed since it was last in power and that under their new government, girls will be allowed to study.

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