AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan, thousands of residents are set to be resettled in the U.S. to escape the increasing danger and destruction.
Refugee Services of Texas said reports suggest 30,000 Afghans will be relocated to the U.S. soon. Many will be temporarily housed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, but at least 324 Afghans will be settled through the organization’s offices in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.
CEO Russell Smith said so far, 107 families are confirmed to relocate to Austin in the next few weeks.
The Austin office of Refugee Services already resettled a family of seven this weekend and plans to welcome at least four more families this week, Smith said Monday.
“They don’t feel safe to go outside,” said Sayed Husseini, an Austinite who’s family is still in Afghanistan.
He said his parents, two brothers, three sisters and his nieces and nephews have been staying inside their homes for two weeks.
“Many Afghans — also my family — they remember the last period, there was a dark period. The Taliban didn’t let the girls go to school; they attacked the minority religions. So, that’s why they still scared,” Husseini explained.
Husseini worked as a translator with the U.S. Army and helped train the Afghan national police. He was able to resettle in Austin on a Special Immigrant Visa in 2017, with the help of Refugee Services of Texas. His wife joined him about eight months later.
Smith says federal dollars help pay for things like medical case management, English classes and social security until families become self-sufficient.
“Pretty much just comprehensive services to help them kind of acclimate and get settled in their new community,” said Smith.
He expects the number of Afghan refugees in Austin and other cities to grow.
“I think everybody is gearing up for this now,” Smith said.
Fariba has lived in Austin since 2007. She’s worried for her sister’s family in Afghanistan. She can’t believe how quickly her country fell.
“To be honest, I’m still in shock. How?” Fariba said. She’s withholding her last name because she fears the Taliban will target her family for speaking out.
She says she spoke with them this morning, and her nephew had already seen violence.
“He saw four, five Afghani army, they’re killed and they’re hang them on the trees. And he said two Taliban was making fire and they just put inside building,” Fariba said.
Fariba’s sister said their neighbor’s son was killed for refusing to join the Taliban.
Fariba says her brother-in-law also worked for the U.S. Army, delivering food and supplies, but he was left behind. Now, they are worried about keeping his work papers, in case the Taliban find them.
“So, they’re very afraid and scared, like, ‘What we should do, should we burn them? If we burn them, maybe something come up and they need those papers to show them?'” Fariba explained.
Husseini is also worried about the Taliban targeting his family, too.
“They find out that the son of this family work with U.S. army, right now the son live in U.S.,” he said.
He and his wife were hoping to visit in December, so that their families could meet his new baby girl. Now, that’s canceled, indefnitely.
Chaos in Afghanistan came just two weeks before the U.S. was set to pull troops from the country after nearly 20 years. Over the course of several days, the militant Taliban toppled authorities in major cities.
It’s believed the Taliban started the takeover because the U.S. is withdrawing, Associated Press explains. One of the biggest concerns among fleeing Afghans is that Taliban members will exact revenge against those who helped the U.S.
Incoming Afghans will have applied for Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, in order to qualify for resettlement. RST says all applicants will undergo background checks and health screenings.
An RST representative explained on Monday, “We know that this is just the beginning of this wave, and RST stands ready to do our part in this crisis.”
A U.S. Department of Defense representative told KXAN that the Department will provide temporary housing and support in the U.S. for up to 22,000 applicants, families and other at-risk people. Eight thousand others will be transported to a third country for processing.
How you can help
Here are some ways RST says Austinites can help Afghan SIV families:
- Amazon Wish List – These are the items we need to provide for EACH apartment setup, so the need is ongoing.
- Make a financial donation via the RST website.
- Volunteer – If you are not already a registered volunteer, the first step is to attend an orientation. The next one is on Aug. 23 at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Go to Volunteer Hub and set up an account, and you’ll be able to access it from there. Here is the link. In the orientation, you’ll learn more about the volunteer opportunities and how to become a volunteer. The most relevant volunteer activities right now are: airport pick ups, meal delivery, apartment set ups and office help (taking inventory and sorting through donations).
- Furniture donations – We need couches (from smoke/pet-free homes), kitchen tables & chairs, bed frames that don’t need a box spring, dressers. These are not required, but we are also looking for rugs (5×7 or larger – clean and from smoke/pet-free homes) as they are an integral part of an Afghan home.