SAN DIEGO — Many Afghans risked their lives by assisting the U.S. in its two-decade-long war against the Taliban.
Now that the U.S. military has pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban has regained control of the country, those stalwart allies and their families are in grave danger. The total number could be around 100,000 people, according to one international aid agency.
Nadine Toppozada, director of Refugee and Immigration Services with Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego, said the U.S. owes them a debt for the lives that have been saved as a result of their help — and it’s time to pay them back.
“It’s our responsibility to honor our promise … of bringing them and their families to safety and not leaving them behind,” she said.
As a refugee resettlement agency, Catholic Charities is a key player in that mission across the nation. The federally funded program is supplemented by donations.
Afghans formerly employed by the U.S. government are eligible for Special Immigrant Visas. Catholic Charities staffers meet arriving families at the airport, transport them to a furnished apartment, supply them with food and basic household items, and provide 90 days of services, including health assessments and assistance with enrolling the children in school and helping the adults to find employment.
The agency has been resettling Afghan immigrants for years. It typically had welcomed two to three families per month, she said, but it is now receiving that many per week.
One of those families was at the Catholic Charities Refugee Services office in Grantville on Aug. 19.
Asif, 46, had worked with the U.S. military for 19 years until this past June. He and his family — including his wife, Hanifa, and their six children — came to the U.S. on Special Immigrant Visas. They arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on July 13, about a month before the Afghan government fell to the Taliban. They were transported by bus to San Diego International Airport, where they were met by Catholic Charities staff.
Asif’s 23-year-old son, Ismail, who has English proficiency thanks to eight months of study before the COVID pandemic, acted as a translator and spokesperson for his family.
He relayed his father’s surprise at how quickly Afghanistan had fallen.
“We didn’t believe that, in a few days, (there would be a) take-over by (the) Taliban,” he said.
Ismail expressed his family’s gratitude for being in the United States, where they would be safe and where he and his siblings will be able to continue their education.
“We’re happy to come here because we are feeling safe,” he said.
Two of Ismail’s sisters shared that they wanted to study medicine and become doctors, something that would have been impossible under the Taliban, which restricted women’s education when it previously ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.
Ismail said that the Taliban had killed two of his father’s uncles and that his father had been “lucky to escape” from an attack.
Catholic Charities seeks volunteers to help the arriving Afghan families, many of whom speak English. Information available at ccdsd.org/refugee-services.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Sept. 1 to give the correct age of Ismail, who is 23 years old.