The hasty pullout of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has created a desperate situation for thousands of Americans and Afghan nationals who aided the United States who are still stranded in the country as they hope to be allowed evacuation by the Taliban.
Meanwhile in Philadelphia, an Afghan man is volunteering with an immigration agency to help receive the first plane loads of refugees from Afghanistan while praying for his own family’s safe arrival.
Mohammad Sadeed is serving as an office manager for HIAS Pennsylvania, a refugee resettlement and immigration legal services agency, one of the non-profits helping resettle Afghan refugees in Philadelphia.
For Sadeed, this resettlement program is personal. His wife and their five children, aged between 4 ½ and 13, visited relatives in Afghanistan a month ago when the Taliban took over control of Kabul on Aug. 15.
“I was worried about my kids and my wife, and I was not even able to sleep for the entire week,” Sadeed told The Epoch Times.
Previously, Sadeed had worked for five years as a supervisor for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. This diplomatic work allowed him and his family to move to the United States in 2019, and they settled in Philadelphia. They mainly did so for their children’s education.
When the Afghan president fled Kabul, handing power to the Taliban, many people, including Sadeed’s wife and children, went to the airport to try to leave the country. But there was violence, and some children were shot, Sadeed said, adding that his children had never witnessed anything like that before.
“I could not imagine when I was not there, how they could handle it alone. I constantly prayed for their safety,” he said.
His family eventually made it onto an evacuation plane bound for Germany just before the Aug. 26 suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport. Sadeed said he feels a great relief now, although he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to see his family.
The last time he spoke with them was for a minute when they were in Germany, as there was no Wi-Fi with many people waiting in line to use the phone. The call was just long enough for them to let him know that they were safe, but didn’t know where their next stop would be.
Sadeed feels fortunate that his family are safely out of Afghanistan. He said that all he can do now is to help other refugee families who have already arrived in Philadelphia. He has taken in one Afghan family and has signed up as a volunteer to pick up people at the airport. He said he knows of about 700 Afghans living in Philadelphia, and said he had called on them to volunteer to greet people at the airport.
Philadelphia city officials have committed to creating a “safe haven” for the hundreds or thousands of refugees that will be arriving over the next weeks. The airport has set up a medical clinic, a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site, food supplies, and toys for the children.
The first planeload of Afghan evacuees first arrived at Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 28. It is the second airport in the country appointed by the White House to receive Afghan allies fleeing from the Taliban, in addition to the Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The plane was expected to arrive around 1 a.m., Sadeed said. Although he hadn’t slept for a week, he felt compelled to go help out. He felt that someone should be there to take care of the families who cannot speak English.
“This is the time that I have to help Afghan folks. This is the time that we need to help each other,” he said. “Most of the people are afraid of another civil war. They don’t know what will happen next. It is a chaotic situation. The only thing we want is to live in peace.”
Sadeed said he hopes that agencies involved in evacuating Afghan refugees will provide a straightforward procedure for processing Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a special status created by the U.S. government for those Afghans who helped the American military.
Need for Temporary Housing
HIAS PA has helped resettle several dozen Afghan refugees in Philadelphia over the past few weeks. Cathryn Miller-Wilson, the executive director, said the biggest challenge is finding housing for them.
“Because of the crisis, we’re getting only several hours’ notice before people arrive at the airport. So that’s not enough time, obviously, to find housing. So the first challenge is to find temporary housing so that then we can find permanent housing,” Miller-Wilson told The Epoch Times.
She said that Airbnb has made arrangements to house 20,000 Afghan refugees globally with the help of private donors.
Miller-Wilson said they are also asking the Philadelphia hotel industry to provide discounted hotel rooms. Apartment rentals have skyrocketed during the pandemic, so HIAS PA is meeting with landlords to discuss lowering rents for refugees.
“But I’m not sure how successful it will be. So I’m very nervous about that, and how our families are going to do, and whether they’re going to be able to find jobs with income high enough to afford the housing,” she said.
Miller-Wilson explained that the federal government had created a 90-day refugee resettlement program to welcome every refugee. The program provides support for picking refugees up at the airport, providing them with affordable housing, providing them with medical assistance, getting them a social security number, and getting their children enrolled in school.
It will also include programs for learning about American culture and society, getting a job, opening a bank account, and English language classes. The government has allowed 90 days for an expected 80 percent of arrivals to be independent and have found jobs, with a remaining 20 percent needing additional services.
Miller-Wilson also said that she has called for Congress to arrange with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to waive the filing fees for humanitarian parole, a permit that the U.S. government offered a few weeks ago for Afghans with relatives in the United States to leave Afghanistan. The application fee is a little over $500 per person. But many Afghans have pretty large families and have difficulty paying the fee.
May Lin contributed to this report.