Orange County officials are calling on the federal government to act swiftly in welcoming Afghan refugees to the United States following the Taliban’s takeover of the country in mid-August, with some nonprofits trying to resettle refugees in the OC.
County leadership and local non-profit groups like Access California Services based in Anaheim are bracing to accept a wave of Afghan refugees some of whom have already made it to Orange County.
Sunbul Sidiqi, a case manager for the nonprofit who came to the U.S. as an Afghan refugee, helped welcome one of the first refugee families that arrived a week ago and thanked county officials for their support of the Afghan people at a Wednesday press conference.
“Just pray for them. It’s so sad when you receive a phone call from your family, from your people every day asking for any support and we can’t do anything for them…They lost their faith … they’re like God won’t listen to us anymore.”Sunbul Sidiqi, a case manager for Access California Services
The nonprofit hosted a community panel Friday with Afghan refugees who have sought services from Access California Services, which is the only organization contracted by the county’s social services agency to administer the refugee social services program.
As of Friday morning, the nonprofit has received 25 calls from Afghan refugees and has already started the paperwork for a handful of them.
At a Wednesday news conference, Andrew Do, Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, called on President Joe Biden to increase his 62,500 refugee admission cap to allow for 100,000 Afghan refugees.
“Helping Afghani refugees, especially those who risked their lives to stand alongside the U.S. to fight for democracy, is not only the decent thing to do, it also shows the world our commitment, as a country, to the fight for democracy.”Andrew Do, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors
Do himself was a refugee from Vietnam.
He also pledged to donate $1,000 a month for the next five years to one of the local nonprofits to help resettle Afghan refugees.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee pledged to match the total amount Do donates.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Chaffee said they don’t have information on how many more refugees may be coming to Orange County.
“We don’t know,” he said. “The initial role was to clear away some of the legal obstacles and then when we do know who’s going to come to welcome them appropriately to make certain that they have the resources that they need to assimilate and be successful here.”
This week the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution in support of a three-step plan for the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the U.S. following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan earlier this month.
Between 2015-2019, there were over 41,000 Afghan immigrants in California, with 3,300 in Orange County, according to the Migrant Policy Institute.
The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan hits home for many Afghan Americans in Orange County.
“I still remember the day one when they went to Kabul. I have all my family over there and I was so worried about them and I was not sure what’s going to happen to them. I was thinking they might just go bring them outside their homes and just kill them.”
Abdul, an Afghan American and county resident
Abdul has asked Voice of OC not to use his full name for fear of his family being targeted in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
Abdul’s family works with Americans and other international organizations over there. He is scared that members of his family might be forced by the Taliban to take up guns and protect their newly occupied provinces back east.
He’s reached out to Congressman Lou Correa to help get his family out of Afghanistan, Abdul said.
“I’m looking for results because when I’m working here trying to help them I also have a date in my mind — August 31 — what’s gonna happen? If they finish the mission they have, then there’s no way to bring them here,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
United States troops are expected to withdraw from Afghanistan by Aug. 31 after nearly two decades of war intended to target Al-Qaeda’s presence in the country following 9/11.
On Thursday, 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 people were killed in a bombing at the Kabul airport that ISIS has claimed responsibility for and to which Biden has vowed to get retribution for in a White House speech, according to the Washington Post.
One day prior to the bombing, Abdul attended a vigil held by the World Relief Southern California, a Garden Grove based humanitarian organization, where resources for nearby resettlement agencies, counseling services and contact information for elected officials including the office of Correa were provided.
In a Thursday phone interview, Correa said he has been working around the clock to allow for more Afghan refugees to come to the states and along with his colleagues signed on to a letter urging the president to evacuate Afghans targeted by the Taliban — even if it means extending the Aug. 31 deadline.
“I also call on the administration to take $6 billion that were scheduled to be essentially used to support the former Afghan Government to reprogram those $6 billion to be used for resettlement of Afghan refugees in the United States,” he said.
Correa also said his staff is making sure to get the information of the relatives of Afghan residents in his district and relay it to the state department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies to get it to people on the ground so they can help evacuate them from Afghanistan.
“This is going to continue to be a challenging situation… It’s not going to be over for a while. I think most people figured August 31 plus minus a week or two and now it looks like our engagement in Afghanistan may go further when it comes to the timeline.”Lou Correa, Congressman
At Wednesday’s vigil, a few members of the county’s Afghan American population shared their fears with the future of their country and that of people stuck under the Taliban regime.
Others were grappling with the fact that it is not possible to get everybody out of Afghanistan and called on the international community to bring peace to the country.
Meanwhile, the similarities of what is happening right now in Afghanistan to the Fall of Saigon 46 years ago is not lost on the County’s Vietnamese population — many of whom fled their country and made homes here.
“The 31st of August reminds me of April 30th in Vietnam,” The Joy Luck Club Actress Kieu Chinh said in a phone interview Thursday.
Chinh was a refugee twice in her life.
The first time was at the age of 16 she fled North Vietnam alone and became a refugee in South Vietnam and then again in 1975 after the end of the war.
“I left Vietnam on the very last flight with nothing but the clothes on my back,” she said. “Millions of people panicked looking for a way out. Millions of people were hanging around at the airport, at the river trying to find a way out.”
Chinh said her heart is broken seeing what is happening in Afghanistan and feels as though history is repeating itself. She called on the U.S. government to act quickly.
“Please, move fast as fast as possible before the gate is closed, before it’s too late. Thousands of people will die,” she said.
“Let us pray for the Afghan refugees.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.