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As Afghans In North Texas Worry About Family Back Home, Nonprofits Try To Help

A hand holds a blue brochure titled "Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants".
Evgenia Parajanian

The Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan as the U.S. completes its withdrawal. An Afghan immigrant from the Dallas area is worried for her family back home, and nonprofits in Texas are trying to help similar families. 

Zarghuna Mukhtarzada is the mother of four kids and lives in Frisco. Her two brothers currently live in Afghanistan — one serves as an interpreter, and the other works for the United Nations.

As the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, Muktarzada said she’s anxious about her family back home. The group is a militant Islamic organization that has historically imposed very strict control over women and girls, including barring them from working, going to school or serving in government.

As a former principal of an all-girls school, she’s especially worried about preserving Afghan women’s human rights, including their access to education. Speaking from her own personal experience, she said, “A mother is a pillar of a home, if a mother is educated, of course, the entire family benefits from that.”

Muktarzada, who describes herself as a devout Muslim, said that the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam isn’t what she believes. “I'm a religious Muslim, but what you know, the version of Islam, they want to apply and make people in practice is totally strange to us. Islam is a very feminist religion.”

Muktarzada said she’s disheartened about the United States’ decision to leave Afghanistan.

“No one expected the United States to leave so early and leave behind so many people in desperate situations,” she said. “This is sad and very disappointing for us. This was a big mistake to leave the military of Afghanistan in this situation.”

The U.S. withdrawal came after President Biden announced that he would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

Her brothers and their families are currently trying to apply for visas to leave the country because they fear that strict Taliban rule would potentially restrict the lives of their wives and daughters.

One statewide organization, the Refugee Services of Texas, is working to help settle 324 Afghans in Texas over the next few weeks.

Mark Hagar, the Dallas Area Director for Refugee Services of Texas, said Afghan refugees have already been coming to North Texas since 2010. They’ve helped resettle over 2,400 refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Because of the changing security situation in Afghanistan, what we normally do is we provide an extension of the protection that they seek by re-settling them here in a safe country, and providing them all the rights that come with it so they're able to establish a new life for themselves here," Hagar said. "The only difference now is that those cases are more vulnerable and it's more urgent.”

The organization plans to bring the refugees over on Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs, which will allow them to receive refugee services anywhere in the U.S.

“Afghans have a lot of family and friends who are here on SIVs. We're probably going to resettle Afghans across all of our locations in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Austin,” Hagar added.

Over the next year, the Refugee Services of Texas will work with national resettlement partners and U.S. government officials to help resettle close to 30,000 Afghans.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at Follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw.

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Haya Panjwani is a general assignment reporter for KUT. She also served as a legislative fellow for The Texas Newsroom during the 2021 legislative session.