By Kathreen Harrison
During the week since Kabul fell to the Taliban, many Mainers have reached out to members of the Afghan community in Maine, which numbers between 300-500 people, asking how they can help. Over the weekend of August 21-22, representatives of the community spoke with Amjambo Africa. They expressed gratitude for the offers of help, fear for loved ones in Afghanistan, and sorrow for their homeland, which has suffered decades of violence and turbulence.
For those wishing to help:
- American citizens are needed to serve as sponsors for the siblings, parents, and friends of Afghan families living in Maine who are desperate to get out of Afghanistan. Sponsorship includes an intention to continue to offer help once refugees make it to Maine. For more information, write to Nasir at [email protected]
- Financial donations are needed to assist Afghan families in Maine navigate the immigration process for loved ones in Afghanistan who may be in danger, and to assist any refugee families that make it to Maine. In addition, because banks are currently closed in Afghanistan, ATM’s are out of money, and money transfer companies such as Western Union and Moneygram are no longer doing business with Afghanistan, even families that are usually stable are running out of money – let alone the 43% of the population that lives below the poverty line. Assistance is urgently needed to help people meet their basic needs. Donations are being accepted by Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition on behalf of the Afghan Community of Maine. Visit maineimmigrantrights.org, click on ‘donate,’ and then select ‘dedicate my donation’ on the short donation form. Write ‘Afghan Community’ in the message box.
- Help completing documents is needed for Afghan people who are trying to get out of the country. Many people are living in a constant state of terror right now, and time is of the essence. Volunteers who speak and write Pashto and/or Dari are needed, as are lawyers who can help with documents on a pro bono basis. Others who are simply willing to lend a hand with documents are also asked to volunteer their assistance. For more information, contact Nasir at [email protected]
- As of June 18 – before the accession of the Taliban back to control of the country – there were already 2.6 million Afghan refugees. Many more people are now trying to flee the country to escape anticipated retribution against those who aided the U.S., have been outspoken against the Taliban, or are perceived to be allied with the west. The Taliban have a well-documented history of punishing their enemies with stoning, beatings, amputation, and death.
Negotiations are underway to pressure the Biden administration to admit a large number of Afghan refugees, similar to what happened after the end of World War 2, and later after the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. However, anti-immigrant sentiment is strong in the U.S., and most experts are not optimistic that the U.S. will be as helpful now as in the past. This despite the U.S.’s two decades of involvement in Afghanistan.
The past week has been exhausting for Maine’s Afghans, as they field desperate pleas for help from people in Afghanistan, mourn losses, and organize in order to be able to help as many people as possible. They ask the public to respect their need for privacy during this difficult time.
The first Afghan refugees in Maine arrived in the early 80s, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Subsequent waves of refugees came after fleeing the Taliban. Over the years some arrived on Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), available for those who have worked for the U.S. government or the military. As of August 22, the U.S. had evacuated 28,000 people since the fall of Kabul.
The United Nations estimates the population of Afghanistan at 38 million people. The major ethnic groups are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. Pashto and Dari are the nation’s two official languages. Most of the population lives in rural areas. Afghanistan suffers from high levels of poverty and illiteracy.