I remember the day in 2016 that a terrorist attack killed several of my fellow students and professors at the American University of Afghanistan. I wasn’t hurt during the 10-hour siege, but from then on, I decided I could no longer risk attending school in-person because of my young daughter. I needed to be alive for her. I was a member of the National Afghan Soccer Team and an outspoken women’s rights advocate. My husband had spent six years working for the United States government as a NATO videographer and video editor. To the Taliban, we were enemies.
Today, I’m a 27-year-old mother of two, living in a quiet California suburb. My family was lucky. We applied for asylum in 2017 and relocated to the United States two years later. We were granted Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), which came with work permits and the ability to apply for permanent residency. I quickly landed a job as a bank teller at Citibank. My husband continued to shoot and edit video as a freelancer in the Bay Area. This was our life when Kabul fell to the Taliban last August.
But when the Americans began evacuating Afghan allies, they only provided 34,500 SIV visas. Most of the other 76,000 Afghans who flew out on American-chartered planes were given humanitarian parole. It’s a temporary status that only lasts two years and provides no pathway to permanent residency.
Parolees can try to adjust their legal status, but the process is costly and lengthy. There is no guarantee of success. What will happen to all these people when their parole expires? Where will they go?
As a Northern California refugee organizer for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), I know scores of allies who applied for humanitarian parole and SIV status for their families more than six months ago and are still waiting. Many live in growing poverty and danger. The Taliban banned women from working, which slashed household income. Worse, women cannot attend school and cannot leave their homes without a man. Domestic violence is high, as are reports of horrific brutality.
Right now, the priority is to get people out of the country. And if humanitarian parole is the fastest way to do it, then we need to speed up the process. But we need a long-term plan: a better way to help parolees transition to permanent status in America, such as creating additional Special Immigrant Visas or some other option. Thousands of Afghans risked their lives for America. Thousands of women have been left behind, and they deserve access to basic human rights. They deserve long term security and a future in this country if they so desire.
No one should be able to stop girls going to school. I want to ask all women leaders around the world to stand with the women in Afghanistan and protect their lives. We need international support. This isn’t just my own fight, and I am not alone. There are thousands of silent voices alongside me.
I was just a girl when I realized what it meant to be a woman in Afghanistan. I had to fight to go to school; my mother was a journalist and believed in me, but other family members thought girls should marry young. Sometimes, angry men threw acid on girls walking to class in the morning. Although I dreamed of becoming the next Messi or Maradona, I also had to fight to play soccer. I started off playing in school. When I was selected to join the Women’s Afghanistan National Soccer Team in 2007, it was the best feeling of my life.
Before 2010, there were limited girls’ soccer clubs across the country, but around 2011, as the culture became less restrictive, they grew. The Afghanistan Football Federation established girls’ soccer clubs in many provinces. My team would practice on U.S. Army helicopter landing grounds behind the U.S. Embassy. It was one of the safest places in Kabul, but I still hid my soccer uniform going traveling between practice and home. Our team faced bomb threats. Yet we played on.
After graduating from high school in 2010, I enrolled at the American University of Afghanistan. Following the terrorist attacks, I finished my bachelor’s degree in general management with a specialization in international relations. I worked too, as program coordinator for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Kabul and as a Leadership Program Analyst at the country’s National Security Council.
After the events of last August, Upwardly Global supported me (and hundreds of other Afghans) in finding a professional job. I joined CHIRLA to assist incoming evacuees and began helping Upwardly Global connect newcomers to professional development. We’ve raised thousands of dollars for women back in Afghanistan. We’re also building an online coalition of Afghan women and their supporters. Through media coverage and newsletters, we’re trying to tell the women of Afghanistan that they are not alone. We haven’t forgotten you, the thousands of silent wives, mothers and daughters.
I understand that we cannot evacuate an entire country, but we must do everything we can for the women who remain. When the Taliban stopped girls’ education, I felt profound disappointment that few female world leaders spoke out. Similarly, the United States must do more for women’s rights in the country, and support NGOS and young women who are leaders.
Women need to be able to speak on behalf of their countries and be a part of decision-making processes. We also can’t leave thousands of Afghan evacuees in limbo. Today I have my green card and will be eligible for American citizenship in 2024. My fellow Afghans now on American soil deserve the same path.
Kawser Amine is the Northern California refugee coordinator for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and immigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2019.
Article Credit: Daily Bulletin