Fleeing to find safe haven: An Afghan refugee's story
When the U.S brought tens of thousands of refugees here from Afghanistan in August, many families, including ten here in Delaware, arrived with almost nothing, seeking a better life.
What’s next for these refugees? Each story is different – but Delaware Public Media’s Roman Battaglia recently got some insight from Sadiq, a former Afghan interpreter who fled his country in 2017 and came to Delaware.
According to the New York Times, as of Sept. 14, some 64,000 refugees had arrived in the United States, and all will need to receive help finding a place to live, new jobs, schools for the children and so much more.
Delaware typically doesn’t play a large role in refugee resettlement. Through the 2010’s, the First State only hosts a handful of refugees per year — Other states can see almost 10,000 refugees in a year.
Jewish Family Services of Delaware is the sole provider of refugee resettlement services in the state. Rosi Crosby, chief strategy officer for JFS says because of Delaware’s size and proximity to cities with much more services, such as Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., our state isn’t the first choice by refugee resettlement organizations.
Typically, refugees are placed in larger cities, where access to social services such as healthcare, government offices and more housing are in far greater supply than rural parts of America.
So out of the 64,000 refugees that have arrived in the U.S., Just 30 people, 10 families have been placed in Delaware so far.
Sadiq M came to the United States after a tough period facing threats of violence from Taliban forces while working as an Afghan interpreter for U.S. coalition forces. (Sadiq chose not to share his full name with Delaware Public Media, out of concern for his family still in Afghanistan).
His family was forced to move multiple times because of these threats, and Sadiq ended up having to work far away from his family in an effort to keep them safe.
But after one fateful night when the Taliban came to his home and threatened to kill his wife, there was no other option than to find a way out of the country.
Sadiq applied for a program called the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV. During the period the U.S. occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, this program allowed up to fifty families per year to obtain a visa to come to the United States if they worked with the U.S. forces as a translator or interpreter.
"You couldn't imagine how happy I was. My friends really care about me, about me and my family's well being."
The process for this application is long and difficult, Sadiq says from applying for the program in 2015, it took two years for his application to be approved.
Applicants need to have an extensive list of documents prepared before applying, as well as face very strict background checks — to ensure that the people approved don’t have any ties to the Taliban or other enemy forces.
Sadiq says he had to be interviewed by U.S. agents, his social media was heavily scrutinized as well, Sadiq says if he was friends with anyone on Facebook that had ties to the Taliban, that could have meant rejection of his visa.
Sadiq also had to submit recommendation letters from U.S. armed forces members he worked with. He was happy to discover that he had made so many friends throughout his time working as an interpreter, and lots of people ended up submitting letters for him.
Sadiq’s arrival in the United States didn’t mean everything was perfect.
He says he’s missed being able to visit his family in person ever since moving here. Because of security concerns, Sadiq and his family aren’t allowed to go back to Afghanistan, where much of his family still lives.
And after the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country in August, and the Tablian’s takeover, Sadiq says he’s been extremely worried about the safety of his family, many of whom have been opposed to the Taliban and worked with either coalition forces or the former Afghan government.
Some of his family were able to make it to safety. Sadiq says his cousin, a lieutenant colonel in the Afghan National Army was targeted many times by the Taliban, luckily he was able to cross the border into Pakistan, but still faces dangers there, where Taliban forces are still looking out for him.
But not all of his family were able to make it out of the country. Sadiq says he’s particularly worried about his Wife’s brother, and his 13 year old daughter.
“The Taliban sent a letter to our village asking the mosque to enlist between 15-45 who are not married. So they should marry a Taliban fighter and they are being taken to Pakistan for some religious lessons and they are being brought back to work for the Taliban.”
Sadiq says his brother-in-law always had high hopes for his daughter, that one day she could become anything she wanted, just like Sadiq’s sister, who’s now a doctor.
While there are ways to escape the country, options become limited with children. Sadiq says you could try and escape in the mountains, but with you’re putting your life in danger, and with kids that task becomes almost impossible.
Sadiq adds his brother-in-law isn’t worried about his life anymore, only about ensuring his daughter becomes successful and independent.
“I have my daughter, she is 13 years old, and she has a bright future. She can do whatever she wants to do. In America, anything is possible. So the whole thing is so sad,” Sadiq says.
Sadiq says he’s been desperately trying to get his family out of the country, especially his parents, who are currently in hiding from the Taliban after they attacked his village.
He says they’ve reached out to Delaware’s two senators for help, and are working with JFS to try and find a legal way to get them out of the country. But the speed at which everything happened makes things more difficult.
“We were not waiting for this, we did not think this was going to happen. So we did not think about the visa or the passports or anything — so we were not prepared in any way,” he says.
Sadiq says both Delaware’s congressional delegation and JFS are working on it, but the process could take a long time.
How you can help Afghan refugees
The Afghan refugees resettling in the U.S. are often arriving with nothing but the clothes on their back, and they need support to learn how to navigate American society, learn English, find a job and more.
In Delaware, JFS is the organization responsible for helping refugees integrate into their new home. JFS is always looking for volunteers to help refugees with job training, transportation and mentorship. The organization also accepts monetary donations as well as furniture or other item donations for arriving families.
You can also support organizations doing work on the ground in Afghanistan, such as Women for Afghan Women, which claims to be the country’s largest women’s group. Or the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal services and advocates for refugees worldwide.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.