On August 15, 2021, Afghanistan fell under Taliban control following the U.S. withdrawal, prompting a large-scale evacuation in which more than 76,000 Afghans were brought to the United States. This historic moment demanded an historic response—and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service met the moment. In the year that followed, the LIRS network has resettled more than 13,000 Afghans into communities across the country.
More than 1,400 of those individuals and families were supported by LIRS Northern Virginia, a temporary office established with the express purpose of resettling Afghans. The Northern Virginia office is unique; 100% of staff are Afghan, many recent arrivals themselves.
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the evacuation, we spoke with several Northern Virginia staff and asked them to share reflections on the successes and challenges of the past year.
The following interview is with one of our staff members in the Northern Virginia Office, who wants to remain anonymous due to their safety concerns.
What inspired you to work with LIRS on the Afghan resettlement effort?
I was looking to the Afghans being evacuated in very terrible conditions, and I thought this was the best opportunity to give a hand of help to our Afghans and our Afghan community. I’m a people-oriented person and I love to serve and help people. These are my fellow Afghans. I know their culture, I know all the norms, and what situation they’re going through.
One year after the government fell under Taliban control and nearly 80,000 Afghans came to the United States, how are you feeling?
It has two parts. The first part is the sad side of the story, the black side of the story–what happened in Afghanistan, how we lost the accomplishments and the progress we have had, at least to some extent. We lost that and the whole regime collapsed. This is not something you can forget very easily. It impacted the whole nation. It destroyed lives and progress and improvements of people’s lives. That is the black side of the story that I will never, ever forget.
But on the other side, the good part of it is that here in the United States, we as the LIRS team have been able to give a hand of support to these people [who] were in a very miserable condition–at least give them relief, give them support with regard to housing, their benefits, their initial resettlement, their employment, and all the assistance we were able to provide.
We are seeing families that are trying their best to make a life here in the United States. That is the good part.
If we are not able to control what happened in Afghanistan, at least we have been able to provide some services to the Afghan communities in the United States. It doesn’t mean that these families are doing very well right now. They do have their challenges. They are struggling to pay their rent. They are struggling with stress and depression and anxiety and thy are sick about what happened in their country and worry about their family’s safety and security.
There are many, many things that they are going through, but at least they are safe, and they at least have food on their table. That’s the good part.
As the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program draws to a close, how are you feeling about the work that you and your team have done?
From the big picture, it has been a rewarding job for me and my team, serving Afghans and watching them flourishing in the United States, getting employed and generating income. Watching these progress somehow makes us more hopeful and gives us some sort of internal relie and internal peace that at least we have been part of this journey–that at least we have been able to impact lives.
I don’t treat a file as a file. I treat a file as a family, because each file that I pick up is a family. They have problems and challenges. They have hopes, they have dreams, they are seeking a good life. They have many, many other families back in Afghanistan. They have challenges, and God has given me an opportunity to serve this family and [has] put me in a capacity to provide these families services.
To learn more about how you can support Afghans in the United States and abroad, please visit the LIRS Afghan Assistance Hub.