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Local Afghans Cry For Refugee Policy Amid Taliban Takeover

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A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. Deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country. (AP Photo)
A man holds a certificate acknowledging his work for Americans as hundreds of people gather outside the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 17, 2021. Deadly chaos gripped the main airport as desperate crowds tried to flee the country. (AP Photo)
This article is more than 1 year old.

As the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, many immigrants who came to Massachusetts are worried about relatives left behind.

Naj is the owner of a local business. He came to Massachusetts in 2005 and succeeded in getting his wife here, as well as a brother.

But the rest of his family is still in Afghanistan, where they have been waiting for their visas to be processed for the last decade.

"The whole family they're just waiting," he said. "I don't know how long. I wish I can do [something] ... I wish somebody can do something ... I don't know what's going to happen to them."

Naj is among many Afghan immigrants in Massachusetts that are hoping family back home can soon join them. Meanwhile, immigration advocates are calling on the Biden administration to act soon to allow more refugees into the country.

Naj asked to be identified by his nickname because he fears speaking out could bring harm to his family in Afghanistan.

Now that the American embassy is closed, many Afghans are desperately trying to figure how to proceed with their visa applications.

Without answers, Naj said he told his mother, brother and sisters not to try to leave the country by going to the airport.

"I just talked to her on the phone ... they're really worried ... I told them, I said, 'For God's sake do not leave home. Just stay where you are and let's see what's going to happen.' "

Naj said if the U.S. had stayed longer in Afghanistan, the government might have held off the Taliban. But others in Massachusetts’ small Afghan community disagree.

A local Afghan woman who goes by Safi — who also requested not to use her full name to protect family — believes the American departure was inevitable. Fixing Afghanistan, she said, should be up to the Afghan people.

"As a citizen of Afghanistan, we should make ourselves stronger," Safi said. "We shouldn't be relying only on the army. We shouldn't be relying only on one person. We should be taking our action by ourselves."

Safi works at a local nonprofit. She said the U.S. occupation allowed women to work and girls to go to school. The Taliban is promising more moderation in their treatment of women — and now, Safi can only hope they live up to that.

"Anyone should be allowed to work." she said. "If it's in the office, if it's a personal thing, they should be working ... The kids, the male and female, should be getting the education."

Safi said her sister has a visa application pending.

Congressman Seth Moulton said yesterday that his office had a list of more than 100 Afghans asking for help leaving the country, including children trapped at the Kabul Airport and activists who have survived assassination attempts.

U.S. officials have pledged to take in 20,000 Afghan refugees at bases in Texas and Wisconsin.

And Dan Berger, an immigration lawyer in Northampton, said he expects Massachusetts to host its share after a broader refugee policy is rolled out, with resettlement efforts typically carried out by local nonprofits.

"I think if the government says, 'look, we're getting in 100,000 [refugees],' then I'm betting that those agencies, I think, will step up and say, 'well, look, we'll take some,' " Berger said.

While the administration figures out its policy, Naj, the Afghan business owner, is waiting for good news. He said he already lost one brother to the Taliban — and he wants the rest of his family to join him here.

"My family is right now is in ... big danger," he said. "It’s absolutely heartbreaking."

This segment aired on August 17, 2021.

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Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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