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From Kabul To Boise With A Broken Heart: A Refugee’s View Of The Current Crisis In Afghanistan

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Josie Fischels
/
NPR
The Agency for New Americans is keeping close tabs on the escalating crisis in Afghanistan.

The crisis in Afghanistan may seem half-a-world away for some Idahoans, but it is indeed very close to home for many refugees who have escaped the turmoil of their homeland to secure a new life in Boise.

“Everybody has fear and they’re scared,” said Yasmin Aguilar, a native of Kabul, Afghanistan who resettled to Idaho in 2000. “What’s coming next?”

Aguilar has family in the region, in Pakistan, still awaiting transport to the U.S. Meanwhile, Aguilar spends her days advocating for many other refugees, as an immigration specialist with the Agency for New Americans.

Aguilar and Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans, visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the difficulty of communicating with friends and family in the region, how Idaho can expect to see more Afghan refugees soon, and how personal the crisis has become.

“There are people with no power, no medical aid, no food. I don't know what will happen. I don't know.”
Yasmin Aguilar

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The situation in Afghanistan is changing with every hour. And on this program, we are getting live on the scene updates; but we also think it's important to bring the story home. So, we're going to talk a bit about that this morning with Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans, Slobodanka, good morning.

SLOBODANKA HODZIC: Good morning.

PRENTICE: I said the words “bring this story home,” because I think it's important to remember that Idaho in general and Boise in particular is home to many people who have left Afghanistan.

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Agency for New Americans
Slobodanka Hodzic is program director at the Agency for New Americans

HODZIC: Right, we've been resettling Afghans for probably the last 20 years. And you're right, Boise is a home of so many people from Afghanistan. And this particular situation… it's actually bringing a global situation to a local level. This morning, talked to one of our previous clients and I asked her how she was doing. And she actually said that everybody who is connected to Afghanistan is not doing very well at this time.

PRENTICE: One of your colleagues shared with me some numbers for the fiscal year: And as of this morning, it's up to almost close to 30 arrivals from Afghanistan. And I'm assuming that number will only go up.

HODZIC: Yes, it will go up because we are expecting more and more people as SIVs to actually be resettled through local agencies…and a little bit longer.

PRENTICE: We have another guest. And could you do the honors and introduce us?

HODZIC: Yes. Well, I'm going to introduce to you my very dear colleague, Yasmin Aguilar. She's been with the agency for over 20 years. She's from Afghanistan. And right now, she's working as an immigration specialist with the Agency for New Americans.

PRENTICE: Yasmin, it's my understanding that…by the way, your family is from Kabul?

YASMIN AGUILAR: Yes.

PRENTICE: And then you fled to Pakistan in the early 90s. So… it's my understanding that when you were in Pakistan, on occasion, you would travel, in great peril, back to Afghanistan... to help women, and educate them about sexual health and abuse. Could you talk a bit about that?

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Agency for New Americans
Yasmin Aguilar is an immigration specialist for the Agency for New Americans

AGUILAR: Sure, I was working with Mercy Corps in their health sector, with the community health. I was traveling to the Kandahar area and southwest Afghanistan because Mercy Corps had a clinic there, and we had to support those people. I had to check what's going on there. And my main goal was always to empower women and children because they're the most vulnerable population in Afghanistan. And even now, most of them, they don't have their voice. And it was under the Taliban time. And I had to change my identity… who I am. And when I go there… and it wasn't an easy journey. I went several times and even not telling my driver where I go next. So, I had to sit in the car and then tell them, because I was kidnapped and attacked a few times. So that's why I had to be very cautious

PRENTICE: When we read or hear the word Taliban…it seems such a remote entity to so many Americans. But when you hear the name Taliban…what's running through your heart?

AGUILAR: My understanding from my childhood in Afghanistan, Taliban was somebody who just read the Koran in a mosque. There is no education, and very extremist Muslim. And what I saw from my perspective was that their whole thing was about the extremism of religion. And women shouldn't do that. Women shouldn't do that. Imagine how many widows are in Afghanistan if they don't have a husband or they don't have a son, how they can go along… and they would be killed by them. So, for me, that group doesn't have any education to rule a country.

PRENTICE: Yes. Do you have family still in the region?

AGUILAR: Yes.

PRENTICE: Have you been able to communicate with them over the last three days?

AGUILAR: Yes, we are communicating. Everybody has fear and they’re scared. What's coming next? And I have family in Pakistan waiting to come to the U.S.. Their case has been approved by US in 2017, but still they don't make here. I don't know why. I really want to know why they cannot fly if they are accepted, and it has been accepted. And they were in the last stage that their medical was already. Yeah, it's really not easy when we are worried about other people… imagine about your own family.

PRENTICE: Slobodanka, let's talk about living here in Idaho. It's not “them,” it's “us.” Could you talk a little bit about the fact that we are talking about our neighbors and we are talking about children who share a school and a playground.

HODZIC: It is. This is honestly our family, our neighborhood, our community that is affected by these changes. And the sad part is that there is no… right now we are processing SIVs, those are Special Immigrant Visa holders, people who used to work with us in or embassy or army. But for regular people, there is no processing. And that's very hard because at this situation, nobody can leave.

PRENTICE: Yasmin…you've lived this. We are in the midst of the beginning of another significant humanitarian crisis.

AGUILAR: Yes, I remember in 1992, it was really not easy to just say the words… because I experienced… it to cross the border. At least we could cross the border… that we were lucky to cross the border. But right now, the borders are closed. People cannot leave. There is no flight. I don't know if you guys watched the people who were rushing to the airport of Afghanistan and sitting near the planes and…because it's not just that they are stupid, it's just the situation. People don't know what to do, and how to be safe and even to cross the border. If the borders are open, not everybody can cross the border…. you could be killed at any cost, by coyotes, by the government, by militia,  by drought,  animals… and anything can affect your safety and your life. So for me….

It's really…

Sorry…

PRENTICE: It's OK.  Take your time.

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Agency for New Americans

AGUILAR: I feel like I'm safe, but I'm still worried about those people that…they don't have anywhere to go. They're stuck.  It's a long war. You know, you hope that things are changing. You hope that people can bring peace in Afghanistan. And there is no way. And then., the civilians who then work with the NGOs or American government, they're all stuck there. They cannot go out. And it's just hard, I cannot find a solution or…people here in the US, we can just only pray because we don't have the power to support those people. There is no way we can help them. And I cannot imagine what they go through. Because other countries are advancing and Afghanistan is going back. There are people with no power, no medical aid, no food. I don't know what will happen, I don't know,

PRENTICE: Slobodanka, when someone here in Idaho asks, “Well, how can I help?” What do you say?

HODZIC: The first thing I would probably say is to urge… to contact our congressional delegation and ask if we can change, to have a processing in a country for our people. Also probably looking to help people who come here as a refugees through the agencies, to make sure that we provide them with the resources, that they are able to start their new life and just be able to ensure the safe pathways for people to leave.

PRENTICE: Slobodanka Hodzic, program director for the Agency for New Americans and Yasmin Augilar is her colleague at the Agency for New Americans here in Boise. Thank you for giving us some time, and Yasmin. our hopes and best wishes are with you and your family… here and there. And thank you.

AGUILAR: Thank you.

HODZIC: Thank you so much.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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