Q&A with Zia and Sahil

Two Afghan Nationals Living in Minnesota After Serving the U.S. Military in Afghanistan

 

Zia and Sahil were resettled by Arrive Ministries through the Special Immigrant Visa program (SIV) for Afghans who served with the U.S. Military over the past 20 years. Zia came to Minnesota six years ago with his wife and three children, he and his wife are now U.S. citizens. Sahil came seven years ago with his wife and children, he and his wife are also now U.S. citizens. Both Zia and Sahil’s wives have been enrolled in Arrive Ministries’ English Language Learning program for Afghan women (AWELL). Our Communications Director interviewed both Zia and Sahil about the fall of Afghanistan. Here are some excerpts from those interviews:

 

Q: What is personally troubling you most about the situation in Afghanistan?

Zia:
I sent my wife and my kids to Afghanistan on July 27th to visit my wife’s family and her sick father. They are in Afghanistan and I am really concerned about them. They are visiting in the Central capital of Kabul. We thought the fighting wouldn’t get this bad, and would continue in the same manner as it had over the past two decades. We didn’t know the Taliban would take over the entire country in a matter of weeks, nor that the fighting would be this bad.


We didn’t know the Taliban would take over the entire country in a matter of  weeks, nor that the fighting would be this bad.


I am telling my family every day just to stay put while visiting family, do not go out. It’s not safe. No place is safe in Afghanistan. There are suicide bombers everywhere. There have been explosions in Central Kabul.

Their flight is Sept. 20th and I am trying to figure out how to get them out earlier because the situation is so bad over there.

Most of my family still lives in Afghanistan: my dad, my brothers and sisters, and my cousins. Most of them were working with the Afghan and U.S. governments as government officials. I am very worried for their safety because we know that whenever the Taliban takes over a place they punish the people who worked with the Afghan government.


I deeply worry for the people and women in Afghanistan. The Taliban destroy schools as soon as they take over a community.


I deeply worry for the people and women in Afghanistan. The Taliban destroy schools as soon as they take over a community. No kids, and especially no girls, will be going to school. Women are worried about their rights and the improvements that have been made the past 20 years under the current government. Their rights will all be demolished under the Taliban. Women from all over the country are fleeing to central Kabul and living on the streets. I saw a video of a woman who came outside without a male family member, so she was being tortured and beaten by the Taliban. She kept saying “my male family member was killed, I have to find food.” I want U.S. politicians to feel the pain that Afghan mothers, daughters, and sisters are going through.

(Update (8/24) Zia’s wife and three kids safely arrived home in Minnesota on Monday night 8/23, after a week of attempting to board a plane from Afghanistan. Over the past week they encountered frenzied scenes at the Kabul airport: hearing gunshots, seeing crowds of people fleeing and pushing to get on any plane that was leaving Afghanistan. As American citizens, Zia’s wife and children — ages 9, 7 and 3 — had to hunk down in a safe place in hopes the chaos subsided at the airport, and the U.S. government would help evacuate them. Zia told the Star Tribune that his wife and children were very scared. “My kids have grown up here in the U.S. and they haven’t seen those things and were very worried.”)

 

Sahil:
I haven’t been able to sleep for many nights. It’s not just about my family, it’s about the women, children, and the millions of people in Afghanistan. I can’t believe what’s going on in the country right now. There are hundreds of thousands of women who are sleeping on the road and streets with nothing. I saw a photo of a woman and baby who came to Kabul with shrapnel in their bodies and there wasn’t even first aid to assist them. It is really disturbing and no one really cares. It is an unbelieve situation what is happening in Afghanistan.


I haven’t been able to sleep for many nights. It’s not just about my family, it’s about the women, children, and the millions of people in Afghanistan.


My whole priority right now is how to secure my own family. My parents, brothers, and sisters still live in Afghanistan; I am the only one of my siblings who lives in the U.S. I am in touch with my siblings and parents a lot. They are lost, they don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s not just about who has taken over the country – it’s how they’re going to treat the people. The Taliban is wild, they are mostly following the ISIS culture and ideology; forcing women and girls to marry ISIS fighters. I am worried about how can I protect my sisters and nieces. That the most disturbing part. I can’t let them be married to radicals.

 

 

Q: What are your thoughts on how the U.S should respect the promises made to Afghans who assisted the U.S. military?

Zia:
The U.S. is not thinking about the people who worked for the Afghan government. They promised to evacuate and give SIV status to those Afghans who worked with the US Army and as contractors with the US government. They have expedited the process and many people are being evacuated in an emergency fashion.


People who have worked with either the Afghan or U.S. governments know that they will be held accountable by the Taliban… their future will be dark.


But I have some close friends and cousins who have worked as civilian contractors on military bases, but at the time they did not get the correct letters to prove their employment by the U.S. government. They may have quit the jobs years ago, and now they have no contacts with their former supervisors to prove they were employed as contractors. Many people are calling me in the U.S. and asking me to contact their former supervisors even without any current contact information. Many of my friends and cousins are panicked by not having the right documentation.

People who have worked with either the Afghan or U.S. governments know that they will be held accountable by the Taliban and will not be forgiven by the Taliban. I do not know what the future holds for them. It could be imprisonment or death. These people have no future, their future will be dark.

 

Sahil:
I applied for my brother in 2018, who is younger than me and worked for the US military; and he is still waiting for his approval. We contacted the U.S. embassy many times and they tell us they don’t know where they are at in the process. He is among the 16,500 Afghan families waiting for interviews and approval. Tens of thousands of SIV applicants are still in the Afghanistan, and they are fearful for their lives. The Taliban doesn’t give any value to their word. They killed a former interpreter who worked with me in front of his kids, even after promising they wouldn’t hurt people who worked with the US military. They are lying.


I am kind of lost. All we have thought about the future of our country is gone.


I am kind of lost. All we have thought about the future of our country is gone. All of this struggle for 20 years; the billions and trillions of dollars, all of the service men and women who fought next to us shoulder-to-shoulder, it was all a waste. We are being abandoned, the women and children of Afghanistan are being abandoned; and the U.S. and the world is letting it happen right now.

 

 

Q: How can Minnesotans and Arrive Ministries help the newly-arriving Afghans we expect to resettle soon?

Zia:
I usually recommend that newly-arriving Afghans go to Arrive Ministries for assistance. Arrive Ministries has programs that are helpful for women to learn English while studying with tutors in their homes. They offer cultural training for the newly arriving Afghans to help them go shopping, help them to find jobs, help with rent for housing until they are stable and can get a good-paying job.

Anything that Minnesotans want to donate will help new families; by providing clothing or household supplies will help them. (Donate household items here)


Many U.S. military people will tell me “Thank you for what you did.” Because they know how I helped and served in Afghanistan.


Public awareness is very important, people think immigrants are bad and taking money and free stuff and don’t work. I will sometimes get people looking at me like I am a terrorist, like I am a bad person. I want people to know that we were in partnership with the U.S. government. Making people aware that many of the Afghan immigrants new to Minnesota were helping the U.S. in Afghanistan. Although I appreciate that many U.S. military people will tell me “Thank you for what you did.” Because they know how I helped and served in Afghanistan. It’s the U.S. who didn’t fulfill their promises with the Afghan government and people, it’s not us.

 

Sahil:


We are thankful to Arrive Ministries and the help they give in meeting the basic needs of the newly arriving families, especially in helping many Afghan women with their English.


Any newly-arriving Afghans should connect with the small Afghan communities already in Minnesota. There are dozens of Afghan families who live in Bloomington, Richfield, and Fridley. Those of us who live here, we will assist them and help them buy clothing and meet their basic needs.

We are thankful to Arrive Ministries and the help they give in meeting the basic needs of the newly arriving families, especially in helping many Afghan women with their English.