Alaha Abdul Faruq, 23, came to the United States when she was just 10 years old, and with her family settled in Northeast Philadelphia with the aid of Nationalities Service Center, which helps new immigrants to find housing and doctors and apply for green cards and citizenship.
Now, she’s a young activist, and spoke Sunday evening at a rally to support Afghans who are trying to escape their home country and come to the United States.
“I understand Biden wanted the troops out, but in that case we need to open up to more refugees,” Faruq said at the rally, titled “Stand with Philly’s Afghan Community,” at Tarken Ice Rink & Rec Center on Frontenac Street.
Sponsored by HIAS Pennsylvania, the Nationalities Service Center, and the city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, the rally brought out about 150 members of the Afghan diaspora to the grassy playing field Sunday evening. Their children ran around wearing the tri-color Afghan flag and holding hand-drawn signs saying “Help Afghanistan.”
The goal of the event was threefold: to show moral support for the local Afghan community, which is concentrated in Oxford Circle; to ask for immediate evacuation and expedited visa processing for Afghan allies trapped in Kabul and other cities, where their lives are at risk; and to “affirm that Philly’s resettlement agencies have the will and the capacity to start resettling Afghan arrivals as soon as they get the green light,” said Margaret O’Sullivan, executive director of the Nationalities Service Center.
Philadelphia is one of 19 cities resettling Afghans. With the Taliban takeover, many are desperately fleeing or taking long journeys to bordering nations. Afghans who assisted the U.S. forces and related institutions are in special peril, according to resettlement experts.
Some of those Afghans are eligible for special protection and expedited visas from the U.S. The military is currently airlifting some to safety, but with a years-long visa processing backlog and Taliban control of the Kabul airport perimeter, many have not yet been able to escape.
Despite Taliban assurances to the contrary, reports are emerging that Afghans who helped the U.S. and allies are being targeted.
Sunday’s event featured remarks from local politicians, including Councilmember Helen Gym, who recalled that her parents fled from post-war Korea.
“Cut the red tape, and get the visas for these people,” Gym said at the rally.
Others, such as Nasiba Hussaini, who worked at the U.S. embassy in Kabul as legal adviser in the political section, called for President Joe Biden to put pressure on the Taliban and the Pakistani security services to stop sheltering terrorists.
“I left because of threats to me and my family. Our neighbors knew where we worked” and the Taliban are now “going door to door looking for us,” said Hussaini, who speaks fluent English as well as Farsi.
She left in December 2019 with her husband and baby, but her parents, brothers and sisters remain in Afghanistan.
“I’m afraid for my sister, who is 10 years old. She won’t be able to go to school, and my older siblings won’t go to college or medical school,” she added. With a law degree, she’s currently looking for work in project management.
There are ways to help, said Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania.
“We need affordable housing for refugees. Many are given money by the U.S. for rent and food. We also need transportation — especially vans for large families — from the airport,” Miller-Wilson said. “We normally get 10 days’ notice for resettlements, but lately, with Afghan refugees, it’s been only a few hours.”
And of course, Miller-Wilson noted, “they need employment. For those who are bilingual, they’re highly educated. For those who don’t speak English, they are very eager.”