Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Freshta Ahrar, a young Afghan woman who has worked for the US government and the UN, said the Taliban’s sudden takeover of her country in August made “normal life” a “hell” – especially for women.
But Ahrar, 29, considers himself lucky. She and her immediate family were among thousands of Afghan refugees who were evacuated and now have their temporary home at Holloman Air Force Base.
She said she has no idea what is in store for her friends and family back home. Ahrar has been working on policy development in the country for several years, which has fallen back under Taliban control. The Islamic fundamentalist group quickly overthrew the government in August, while US troops left the country after a 20-year war.
“You know, to be honest, at the moment I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Ahrar said in a telephone interview with the Journal. ‘The moment I want to say is a crisis. … And life as a woman before this situation we were threatened or intimidated. We were targeted. But now that the whole country has been taken over (by the Taliban), I can not imagine being a woman there. “
Ahrar is one of about 4,400 evacuees from Afghanistan who are currently staying in southern New Mexico at Holloman, said Angelo Fernandez, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.
He said DHS, along with the defense and state ministries, are some of the federal agencies working with these Afghans on resettlement. They have different types of visas and work permits.
He said Holloman is one of eight “safe haven” locations around the country. About 2,400 Afghans have already moved from Holloman to other cities, he said.
“The US government is working around the clock to conduct security screening and control of vulnerable Afghans before they are allowed to enter the United States, in line with the dual goal of protecting national security and providing protection to our Afghan allies,” he said. a spokeswoman for DHS. in an email. “As with any population entering the United States, DHS, in coordination with interagency partners, takes several steps to ensure that those seeking entry do not pose a national or public security risk.”
Customs and border protection, immigration and customs enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Secret Service were among the agencies that processed, screened and examined the Afghan nationals, many of whom worked directly for the United States, according to DHS.
Ahrar and her family plan to settle in California, where the family has personal connections. Ahrar’s husband is currently in Italy waiting to meet his wife in America.
She was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1992 – at a time when Islamic guerrillas were fighting for control of the country.
Ahrar and her family fled to Pakistan, where she was educated before returning to Afghanistan as a high school student in 2007 after the Taliban were removed from power during America’s protracted war in the country.
She took a bachelor’s degree in English before attending the American University of Afghanistan, where she graduated with a master’s degree in business administration.
Ahrar worked for the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, and then for the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. She currently works externally for the agency from Holloman. Part of her focus for these agencies was on policy development in her home country. She received a humanitarian official award from the UN.
“Afghanistan was at its peak of development,” she said of her time in the country. “It was amazing.” Her task for both of these agencies was to try to empower women who face restrictions under Islamic law. Ahrar said that as a woman working in Afghanistan, she often kept her career a secret.
Ahrar was shopping with his sister in August when the Taliban took control of Kabul. She said it happened all of a sudden – banks and businesses started shutting down and ATMs stopped working in the middle of the day.
“It was a normal life that went to hell,” she said. “So this happened in a flash, you know, it was so tangible. A normal life goes on. And then suddenly something like that.”
Ahrar said she received an email from the U.S. Embassy containing an attachment that would give her and her family access to the airport.
They were part of a sea of humanity that met at the airport in August. They surrendered to the Taliban at a checkpoint at one point, but they eventually entered the airport.
When Ahrar was first inside, Ahrar said she and her family had to wait several days in direct sunlight and through cold nights before boarding a plane to Abu Dhabi on August 22. They stayed in Abu Dhabi for almost two months before being flown to Holloman, where they arrived on 22 October.
Ahrar said she cares about them back in Afghanistan, including her in-laws and her friends. She said she was particularly concerned about her former classmates and teachers at American University, who she said would make them vulnerable under Taliban control. She said she is still in contact with those friends who do not know when or if they will be able to evacuate.
“I’m lucky that out of millions of people I was able to get myself out of the situation over there,” she said.