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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Surviving Extremism: Afghan Activists’ Journey to Freedom in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — Afghan ​Activists Find⁢ New Home and Hope in Utah

Frozan⁤ Hatami never thought she would have to leave her home ‍in Afghanistan. But as her activism put⁤ her in increasing danger from the Taliban, ⁤she realized that fleeing was‌ her best option for safety.

Leaving behind family and friends and the only life she has ​ever known⁢ was a difficult and scary decision for Hatami. She, like many other ⁢Afghan activists, was forced to convince herself that⁤ leaving was necessary for her own survival.

As Hatami recounts her ‍last day in Afghanistan,‌ she ​speaks with strength and stoicism. Saying goodbye to her parents, especially as an only child, was heart-wrenching. To this day, she is unsure when she will see them again.

Hatami is one of several Afghan activists who found⁤ their way to Utah earlier this year after receiving death threats⁣ from the Taliban for their efforts in advocating for women’s and human rights. For their own safety, they‍ have kept ​their specific routes anonymous. However, each activist took a unique and challenging path out of Afghanistan before reaching a new country where they could⁣ wait for their visas to the United States to​ be‍ processed.

Some activists were‌ able to leave the⁤ country⁣ with the company of a male⁢ chaperone, while‍ others crossed the border on foot, relying on the kindness of strangers to act as their chaperones. One activist even ⁢made the journey ⁤while pregnant. Many of the activists made ⁤multiple attempts‍ to leave their country and still have family members remaining there.

Pakiza Munir, one of the activists, describes the experience as “overwhelming and highly risky” and emphasizes the importance of luck and caution when attempting​ to cross the border. She says that saying goodbye ‌to her‌ family before leaving ‍for America was ⁢one ‍of the hardest things she has ever had to do.

Another activist, Shamail Tawana Nasiri, left with only a change of⁤ clothes ⁣and her computer. She kept her plans a secret from even her fellow activists due to the dangerous political climate in her country.

Following the sudden withdrawal of the⁤ United ‌States from ‍Afghanistan, many Afghan allies were left stranded in the country. While tens of thousands ​of Afghans have since resettled in the U.S., they have been left without a clear legal way⁤ to ⁢remain in the country, and thousands ‌more are ‍waiting outside of the country for their visas ​to be processed.

Crystal Bayat, an Afghan​ activist living in Utah, along with her ⁢nonprofit, the Crystal‌ Bayat Foundation, helped organize the journey for the group. She also received help from the Nazarene Fund and the Utah ⁢Attorney General’s Office.

Bayat explains​ the struggles that ​Afghans face in trying to ‌obtain visas. “For Afghans, it’s a​ big⁣ challenge at ⁤this moment. Most countries just turn their face and shut down⁢ the visa process for Afghans,” she says.

The activists express frustration with the ​U.S.‍ and international community for⁢ turning their backs on the Afghan people following the Taliban’s takeover.

Laila Basim, another activist⁤ says, “My heart breaks when I see how these Western countries just‍ shut the doors in the face of the Afghans that trusted them, supported them and protected them for 20 years‍ in⁢ Afghanistan.”

Living Under Taliban Rule

Each‌ of the activists had normal lives before ⁣the Taliban’s sudden takeover. They went to school, worked in government or for humanitarian organizations, and hoped for a better future for their country.

The news of⁣ the Taliban’s takeover ​shook Hatami to her core. “Everything collapsed suddenly and it was like the whole sky shattered on my heart,”​ she says. “They are an extreme group, they are against all women’s rights, so it was too difficult to pursue all‌ the​ dreams⁤ I had before.”

In the first month following the takeover, Hatami struggled with feelings of uselessness. Eventually, she was able to find strength and motivation to continue her ​activism.

“After the takeover, I found it was a very bad feeling ⁤to feel⁤ like⁤ you’re good for nothing. And then I thought (starting​ my civic⁣ activities was) the very least that I can do ⁢for myself, for the girls who are like my age and they cannot raise their voices, they cannot do ⁤something for themselves or for the nation,”⁣ she ⁣says.

Life under the Taliban has been particularly brutal for women and girls, who are banned from attending ‌school beyond sixth grade, holding public office, and working most jobs‌ outside ⁤of the home. The Taliban has also mandated that​ women wear head-to-toe clothing and be accompanied⁣ by a mahram, or male chaperone.

Despite the risks, Munir, Hatami, Basim, and‍ Nasiri were outspoken in their opposition to the Taliban. They organized protests, opened a library for women and girls, and founded a news organization to raise awareness‌ about the situation ⁣in Afghanistan.

The women took safety⁢ precautions, such as frequently moving homes,⁣ but it ⁤did not stop them⁤ from facing frequent threats, detainment, and beatings from the Taliban.

Basim suffered a miscarriage as‍ a result of a beating she received⁣ during a protest. She says that finding out she was pregnant again was a major factor in⁣ her decision to ⁤leave Afghanistan. Prior to ‌leaving, she says she moved seven times in two years after her home was searched and destroyed by the Taliban.

Her biggest hope is for​ her son to have​ a better, safer life in America and to make ​a positive impact in ⁤Afghanistan’s​ future. She says,‍ “It will always be a ⁤pain in my ​chest to remember‍ these days that I had to be away from​ my mom, away from my siblings, away from my husband⁣ just because we are standing for ​the right things.”

Continuing the Work

Arriving in Utah was a mix of emotions for the activists. While they were⁣ grateful for ⁤a safe end to their long⁤ journey, the stark ⁢contrast ⁤between the freedoms in⁤ America and the‌ human rights abuses ​in their⁤ home country were hard to overlook.

“Seeing all the differences, sometimes it’s like a little bit disappointing for me. We are living ‍on the same Earth, right?” Hatami says. “We ⁣just came ⁣out of Afghanistan to continue raising our voices. If we were‍ in Afghanistan, we couldn’t do so because the restrictions are increasing on ‍women.”

Munir, Hatami,⁤ Basim, and Nasiri are determined to continue their advocacy work from Utah. In August, they held a rally in Salt Lake City to mark the second anniversary of the Taliban’s takeover. Munir ​says in Afghanistan, women could only protest inside because it was too dangerous to do so outside.

The women left behind lives they spent decades building in Afghanistan, but they are starting anew in ‌Utah with new ​dreams and plans. Munir hopes to continue her education and dreams of opening a school for ​girls. Hatami plans to pursue another degree and aspires to become a politician or businesswoman. Nasiri will continue running Farkhunda News, the news organization she founded in 2020 to‌ raise awareness about the⁢ situation in Afghanistan. She hopes to make the company profitable for the women she has working on the ground in her home country.

“You walk on the street and nobody’s going to tell you to walk like this or wear this or do this‌ or do not say this. Here, the moment you step into America, you ⁢allow yourself to dream about different stuff,” Munir says.⁤ “You give yourself the courage to dream. And the dreams are getting bigger​ the more you see the ⁤possibilities every day.”

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Truth Media Network
Truth Media Network
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