The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is a catastrophe that has imperiled women and others who have worked with the United States and nongovernmental organizations, a prominent journalist said Monday, adding that she fears the country will become a haven for terrorists.
“A catastrophe is happening in Afghanistan in front of the world’s eyes,” said freelancer Fariba Pajooh, an Iranian native who reported from Afghanistan in 2014, 2015 and 2018. “But the world is just trying to close its eyes to it.”
A day after the Taliban took over the presidential palace in Afghanistan, thousands tried to flee the country. News reports and graphic video showed Kabul’s airport in chaos, with gunfire and people swarming and clinging to aircraft taking off, desperate to leave.
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Human service organizations, such as Samaritas, are bracing for immigrants evacuated from Afghanistan.
“We are tracking the news as we are able to,” Mihaela Mitrofan, the director of refugee resettlement with Samaritas, said. “The good news is, though, our national partner agency has set up a conference call tomorrow to cover the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan.”
Mitrofan said she does not know how many evacuees will make it to Michigan, but the organization is positioned to receive them and she expects what’s unfolding in Afghanistan to bring “a new wave of refugees for resettlement.”
Officials from Michigan called it an “institutional failure” and urged evacuating Afghan allies.
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In an emotional interview with the Free Press, Pajooh said her sources, some of whom are now in the United States, are terrified to talk about what’s happening, fearing danger to their relatives still in the country.
One family member, she said, had already received threatening messages.
“I have friends in the Detroit area and they are super worried about their families back in Afghanistan,” she said. “Some of them were able to talk to me, but they are not talking to me right now because they were told their relatives would be arrested.”
Now a doctoral student at Wayne State University studying communication, Pajooh has covered Afghanistan’s parliament, national protests, and interviewed activists and former presidents. She worries that educated women in the country and others are in danger.
She said she also fears that Afghanistan will become a new hotbed for terrorists.
Lansing-based resident Roya Omari, 31, lived in Afghanistan until she was 5 years old before moving to Pakistan, and eventually made her way to the U.S. at about 11 or 12 years old. Many of her relatives are still in Afghanistan and they’re afraid amid the chaos.
“We’re scared for them. It is a shock for us because everything happened so quick. You just don’t know what will tomorrow bring for the Afghan people. Is it going to be better or worse? We don’t know,” Omari said. “I have family back home and I have cousins that are part of the national army and they’re afraid for their life. We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Her mother has been checking in with their family overseas, while Omari keeps up with news updates.
“I feel like it hasn’t hit me yet. I think it’s maybe because I’m not there. I’m still processing it. It happened so quick. I’m still trying to understand what happened,” Omari said.
But she is frustrated.
“I hope the world wakes up … bring some kind of peace and prosperity to the Afghan people,” Omari said, adding if the United Nations and powerful countries “could stand up for the Afghan people, that would be appreciated … it’s about humanity now. Innocent people losing their life.”
Ezatullah Shamszai is shocked and heartbroken over the turmoil affecting his family in Afghanistan. The Lansing resident checks in daily to provide moral support and ensure they’re safe.
“We get news … of heavy fighting. All of those things affect us because we have family there and we are worried about them,” Shamszai said. “Nobody knows where the country is going in the future.”
Many family members ran businesses but have shut them down, leaving them concerned about their future.
“Everybody’s at home. They’re not going outside,” Shamszai said. “We still want the American government and the international community to focus more on the countries interfering in the Afghan affairs, to pressure countries to leave the Afghan people to have their own government, to come to a peaceful agreement.”
Pajooh, 40, blamed the Afghan government and the Trump administration, which she said sought to “make a fantasy” that the Taliban was a changed organization. But, she said, that “was a lie,” and the Taliban is the same, and maybe even worse now.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, on Sunday dismissed claims that the collapse of the government in Afghanistan was at all Trump’s fault, arguing that it was just blame-shifting and “this did not happen on our watch.”
Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free Press Staff Writer Emma Stein contributed. Contact Dana Afana: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaAfana