Bay Area nonprofits face dangerous challenge in bringing Afghan workers to US

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
'Catastrophe': Bay Area nonprofits desperate to aid Afghanistan
Bay Area nonprofits are desperately trying to help save people of Afghanistan who worked with their organizations.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The pain of Afghanistan suffered in the San Francisco Bay Area began with a seemingly innocent question by a woman holding a phone.

"Is her voice going to be heard or not?" asked Humaira Ghilzai.

On the other end of the line was an educator in Kabul, worried about the Taliban seeing a television news story, here, that might lead to reprisals.

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"The Taliban have not changed. If anything, they have become worse," said Humaira.

The last few days have been torturous for her. She was born in Afghanistan, came to the United States in 1977 and has committed her life to a nonprofit called the Afghan Friends Network, which promotes the education of women, especially.

Her friend's latest reports on the phone were not promising.

"They currently have taken the provincial ministers and are about to hang them," she explained.

Stories like that add context to iconic images of mobs trying to climb aboard moving airplanes at the airport in Kabul.

VIDEO: 7 killed as Kabul airport plunges into chaos while Taliban patrols Afghan capital

Thousands packed into the Afghan capital's airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country.

"It has not only been a crisis it has been a catastrophe," said Heidi Kuhn in her Marin County office of Roots of Peace.

Her non-profit has had Americans and Afghans working hand-in-hand, growing and harvesting food for 20 years.

As of Monday morning, Heidi had evacuated most of her Americans to safety, but she continues to worry about 360 Afghans who also worked with them.

"That has made the farmers at risk for their lives because they have been working for an American NGO run by a woman."

VIDEO: Bay Area Afghan community fearful for family in Middle East

The events currently unfolding in Afghanistan have left the Bay Area Afghan community devastated.

Heidi began signing documents Monday that might gain those farmers refugee status, if they can cross a Talban controlled border. Even then, their best hope will be to spend one or two years in foreign refugee camps, waiting for the United States government to review their cases.

"So you are going to risk your life. You have no money. The Taliban could shoot and kill you, potentially. It's a lot of red tape. I have concerns this does not go far enough."

But those are the frustrations of trying to manage Afghanistan from more than 7,000 miles away.

The ramifications are more than personal, said Humaira. They're global, "The average American should care because in a few years, terror will come from that part of the world and we will wonder how it all happened. Again."