'A long road to go': How Afghan refugees are adjusting to life in US after fall of Kabul 2 years ago

Two years after the Taliban takeover, refugees recount moving to U.S.

August 12, 2023, 5:06 AM

Two years after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Tamana Yaquibi says she cannot forget the "difficult" scenes at the Kabul airport as she fled Afghanistan.

"I never can forget," she told ABC News. "We saw a lot of people, like struggling for their life as they [the Taliban] were shooting people and they were hitting the women. And they were trying to not let everyone to get into airport."

Twelve days after the fall of Kabul, Yaquibi fled with her mother in search of better living conditions for women.

The Taliban, after capturing Kabul in August 2021 ahead of a planned U.S. withdrawal from the country, banned women from having jobs amid an already tenuous economy. The Taliban also banned women from traveling alone without a male guardian, which has confined many to their homes.

Yaquibi is one of 97,000 Afghan refugees who resettled in the U.S. and started their lives over.

After fleeing the country, Yaquibi says she and her mother managed to get a flight to Bahrain. Yaquibi's sister is a U.S. citizen, she said, and was able to secure paperwork to allow Yaquibi and her mother to get to the U.S.

They eventually arrived in Virginia before being transferred to a military base in Texas. After over a week of document processing, Yaquibi and her mother moved to New York City.

That was when her journey as a refugee in the U.S. began, she said.

PHOTO: A Delta Airlines talent acquisition employee speaks to an individual at one of the hiring fairs that Welcome.US organizes for Afghan refugees.
A Delta Airlines talent acquisition employee speaks to an individual at one of the hiring fairs that Welcome.US organizes for Afghan refugees.

"After moving to New York I had nothing – like I was completely undocumented," Yaquibi said. "So after searching and finding out from neighbors here they told us about Women for Afghan Women and I came here and their lawyer helped me to start my process and then they filed my [asylum] case."

Women for Afghan Women is an organization based in Afghanistan, with community centers in New York and Virginia, that aims to protect and promote the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls in their home country and in the U.S., according to the group's website.

The organization provides resources that refugees need in the U.S., such as English and citizenship classes, driver's education, case management, mental health counseling, women's support groups and immigration and legal support.

"In the last few years, there isn't any Afghan anywhere in the world that has not been traumatized ... I have a friend, whose child is suffering from a very horrible mental health issue right now because she witnessed her grandmother being beaten up by the Taliban in the airport when they were evacuating," Naheed Samadi Bahram, the U.S. country director of Women for Afghan Women, said.

Naheed, a former refugee herself, says she was only 10 years old when her mother was killed in an explosion during the Afghan Civil War in 1990. She says it was important for her to get involved with the organization's mission of empowering the refugees, especially those that are women.

"I think we have a long road to go…the need is not going to end unfortunately…But there is definitely hope, there is hope," she said. "We see a lot of children who are now being raised and they're being able to go to school and get education where they could not do in Afghanistan and hopefully that generation will have a better life."

Refugees have also received help from Welcome.US, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes Americans to help resettle newcomers seeking safety in the U.S.

According to Kit Taintor, the vice president for policy and practice at Welcome.US, many of the obstacles that refugees first face are logistical issues.

"How do I find a house? How do I get around my new town? For those of Islamic faith, where do I buy halal meat? Are there groceries that I can use to cook a meal that reminds me of home," she said.

Many refugees are also faced with legal issues relating to immigration and integration within American society.

Organizations like Women for Afghan Women and Welcome.US say they help with asylum applications, legal paperwork and finding employment.

PHOTO: A childhood picture of Tamana Yaquibi in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A childhood picture of Tamana Yaquibi in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Tamana Yaquibi

"Folks might be able to get a job quite easily in a warehouse facility, but that might not be a job that meets their skill sets, or their educational levels," Taintor said.

Yaquibi was previously a teacher in Afghanistan. Now she works as a part-time cashier at a restaurant. However, she says she is grateful for her opportunities in the U.S.

"I'm hopeful for my future here that I have the opportunity to study, to work, to have a future here and this is something that makes me feel like, okay, at least I have a comfortable life as a woman that I couldn't have that life anymore back in Afghanistan," Yaquibi said.

Refugees and organizations alike are now pushing for Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., last year. If passed, this legislation would allow refugees with temporary or asylum status to apply for permanent residency and would provide broader support for Afghans.

PHOTO: A caseworker from Women for Afghan Women holds a "Pass the Afghan Adjustment Act" sign during an advocacy event.
A caseworker from Women for Afghan Women holds a "Pass the Afghan Adjustment Act" sign during an advocacy event.
Women for Afghan Women

"Passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, I think will save a lot, a lot, a lot of – a lot of unnecessary work and paperwork…I think it's very apparent for everybody that returning to Afghanistan is not an option for many people," Naheed said.

Despite all the support and aid received, Yaquibi can't help but relish on her past memories in pre-war Afghanistan.

"I hope one day I can go to all traditions, occasions and everything we used to have in Afghanistan, like Eid celebration. I miss those days a lot and I hope one day I can have those days again," she said.

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