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Bay Area Afghan community marks anniversary of U.S. withdrawal

Bay Area Afghan community marks anniversary of U.S. withdrawal
Bay Area Afghan community marks anniversary of U.S. withdrawal 02:44

FREMONT (KPIX) -- With the one-year anniversary of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan imminent, Bay Area community leaders say many challenges remain for the new arrivals who managed to escape that country as well as for the people who remain there. 

"We are trying to really help, especially, the new arrivals so they can settle down so they can understand the resources," said Rona Popal,  executive director of the Afghan Coalition based in Fremont. "We think these women and children are hostage by the Taliban regime."

In the year since the Taliban captured Kabul and gained control of the country -- even before the U.S. completed its withdrawal from the country -- people who came to the Bay Area and other U.S. locations as new arrivals struggle to find affordable housing options, steady work opportunities and they face language barriers as they adjust to their new living circumstances. 

"A lot of people really need help, each one of these people and the families that come, even though they have their financial problem, they're trying to help their families in Afghanistan," Popal told KPIX. 

The frustration felt by those advocating for the Afghan families here and abroad say the Taliban has not delivered on the promises made when they returned to power. Leaders in the U.S. express a bleak long-term outlook for citizens still in Afghanistan. They also worry about the process to help those who served the U.S. government and military in Afghanistan but are still stuck in that country, trying to get out. 

"It's very difficult for them to obtain a quality of life that is suitable for the dignity of anybody," said Hayward councilmember Aisha Wahab, who is the first Afghan American elected to office in the U.S. "These new arrivals, they don't have friends, they don't have a safety net, they don't have a community network, they don't have anything so they're really feeling alone, especially in areas where there isn't a significant Afghan population."

She says that, because of economic hurdles in the Bay Area like the high cost of living, some families would prefer to go back to Afghanistan but cannot return. She also says some U.S. citizens who tried to leave after the Taliban takeover are still unable to get out.

Wahab worries that those new arrivals could become homeless and their children could be forced into foster care if their situation does not improve.

Even the effort to help faces roadblocks. Services like English as a second language are not properly equipped to help Afghan families with their native languages. 

"The Afghan community deserves the attention of our elected officials. I know we can do more," Wahab said. 

New arrivals from Afghanistan do not have the same status as other immigrants and refugees so they do not get the same services. Earlier this month, lawmakers introduced the Afghan Adjustment Act to try and help more people with temporary status live here permanently.

Hassan Etemadi supports the bill as an Afghan American who now lives in Fremont after moving to the U.S. in 2013 on a Special Immigrant Visa or SIV. He worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul before moving here. 

"Please do not forget Afghans, they are going through a lot of tough times, there's a lot of disruptions of families in the Afghan community," said Etemadi, who chairs the Hayward-Ghazni Sister City Committee, a non-profit working on diplomatic relationships between citizens in different cities. Ghazni is a city located in east Afghanistan. 

There is plenty of work to do in the short-term but, as these community leaders think about the backward step their homeland has taken after just one year, they worry about the lives of future generations growing up in that country. 

"Those women and children, they had a dream that one day they can be a leader in Afghanistan," Popal said. 

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