When news broke of the arrival of Afghan refugees on the outskirts of Washington, calls for help escalated. Within days, however, they were no longer needed: diapers, blankets and food-filled spaces for donations, and fundraising was suspended in many places.
The Taliban’s resumption of power and the ensuing chaos in Kabul, with crowds around the airport looking for an escape route, mobilized the community of Afghan origin already active in the region. American capital.
The group organizes protests to ask for more international aid, helps people leave Afghanistan and tries to facilitate the adoption of children who arrive alone in the United States – a local group held a public meeting, by Zoom , to explain the process to interested families.
The operation to withdraw Western troops from this Central Asian country, shaken by attacks that killed more than 180 on Thursday (26), is accompanied by a new influx of refugees.
Nathaniel Greenberg, an Arabic professor at George Mason University, has campaigned for volunteer translators as many newcomers do not speak English. “In 48 hours, I received more than 40 messages from Dari and Pashtun translators [idiomas afegãos], mostly residents of the area, “he told Folha.
The quick response didn’t surprise him. “A 2015 census showed that there are 182 languages and dialects spoken in Fairfax County, [na Virgínia]. It is one of the most linguistically diverse and internationally connected regions in the United States, ”he says. “It’s a good place to welcome just about any refugee. It’s a great place to live, so I hope a lot of them stay. “
A study by George Mason found that in 2017, approximately 12,000 Afghan immigrants lived in the region known as the DMV, which includes the District of Columbia (where the capital is located) and the states of Maryland and Virginia. .
“In many cases Afghans come here to join family and friends who have lived here for years or decades. Since there is such diversity, it is easier to find work in fields like cooking. and housekeeping, ”says Khaul Parsa, 45, in a conversation at a Starbucks coffee shop in Annandale, Va., a 30-minute drive from the White House.
“Living here makes it easier for Afghans to maintain their traditions. There are several Muslim centers and mosques and many places that sell halal food. [preparada de acordo com os preceitos muçulmanos]. “
The establishments are however almost hidden in the typical landscape of the American suburbs. Behind the Starbucks, with a raised garden out front, is a mosque and community center, the Mustafá Center, with an entrance several meters from the street.
Elsewhere in Annandale, there is a huge Afghan supermarket behind a convenience store. There are many types of teas, grains, spices and meats. When Folha visited the scene, veiled and unveiled women were shopping, while a baker was preparing samosas and other pasta.
Parsa has lived in the United States for four years. Before, I worked for an NGO in Afghanistan. One day while driving, he was ambushed, which he attributes to the Taliban, and was shot seven times. He spent months in the hospital and then got a student visa to immigrate. “The Taliban are a terrorist and racist group. We cannot trust them ”.
The activist has received hundreds of messages from Afghans seeking help to leave the country, many people he does not know. People are sending photos of documents to show that they have worked with the United States in hopes of gaining support to speed up the process. A policewoman, for example, sent pictures of various training certificates she had taken, along with the flags of NATO countries. She fears she will be killed by the Taliban if captured.
“My cell phone broke a few days ago and I have lost thousands of contacts. I’m trying to reconstruct the schedule while they keep calling and texting me. I can hardly sleep at night, ”he says.
The arrival of new refugees in the region is done discreetly. Initially, they were taken to a gymnasium on the North Virginia Community College campus, but now they are housed in the Dulles Expo Center, a pavilion next to a hypermarket and several fast food restaurants.
The center was surrounded by black fences and is guarded by the army and the police. Afghans arrive by bus and get off in a restricted area. They stay there for a few hours or a few days, waiting for the documents to be processed. Anyone who obtains a green card or already had one can leave; those which depend on the visa analysis are retained and subsequently on other bases. Buses travel with soldiers on board.
“Many have lost or had to throw away their cell phones along the way and now have difficulty reaching acquaintances,” said a local employee, who declined to be identified. “Ultimately everyone will be helped in one way or another, but it’s not clear how everything will work.”
“Things are well organized here. There is food, medical care, and paperwork. The documents are being translated to complete the process, ”says Maro Kazemi, 38, who works as a volunteer translator on the site. “But we are concerned that the August 31 deadline may not be enough to save everyone who is still here. The Biden government must review this deadline. “
The date is the deadline given by the US government to complete its withdrawal from Afghanistan – and Biden’s speeches and threats from the Taliban clearly show the low likelihood that it will be extended.
“My uncle and a few other relatives are still in Afghanistan. They tried to escape on Wednesday morning, but everything was blocked around the airport, ”said Oresh Ghousi, 28. The daughter of Afghan parents and born in the United States, she helps organize weekend protests in Washington in an attempt to attract international attention.
They are trying to convince the United States and other countries not to recognize the Taliban as a government and to expand the rescue and reception of refugees abroad.
Oresh’s family owns businesses in Springfield, Virginia. She runs a beauty salon; her mother, Layla, 56, owns a spa; and his brother Arsalan, 31, runs an Afghan restaurant, Big Red Halal, whose decor combines Afghan elements, graffiti and a television showing football.
At his brother’s restaurant, Oresh says he applied for the adoption of an Afghan child. “I still don’t know how long it will take, but I want to give, at least one of them, the same chances I had here.”