NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It has been a difficult week for Hewad Hemat.
“I feel sad, I feel scared for all those left behind,” Hemat said during a recent interview. “I cannot eat well, and I cannot sleep well.”
Hemat is a native son of Afghanistan, and he says watching it return to Taliban control has been gut-wrenching. Those images of Afghans running on the tarmac are heartbreaking.
“The security forces were really well trained. They were well-equipped and I don’t know why they didn’t resist,” Hemat said.
His pain pales in comparison though to what his family back in Afghanistan is experiencing.
His parents and siblings are located five hours from Kabul’s airport in a city called Khost. He says a drive there would be impossible to make right now. He isn’t sharing their faces with us because he doesn’t want them harmed.
“Everyone is in hiding now,” Hemat said. “No one was prepared for this rapid collapse of the government.”
Hemat’s message for President Joe Biden?
“Do not leave our friends behind, good friends. They don’t deserve that,” Hemat added.
The White House is at least trying to help. Biden has directed $500 million in the last several days to improve the visa process for Afghan citizens.
During a press conference on Friday, Biden said efforts will continue to help Afghans who previously helped the U.S. mission in the country.
The president is using what’s known as the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program to help a select group of Afghans resettle.
To qualify, previous work helping the U.S. is required, like being an interpreter.
About 20,000 to 22,000 Afghans are expected to be selected for the program with many more already approved.
Each visa recipient can bring their spouses and children.
Hemat got his special visa through the program in 2014. However, he says the paperwork was tedious before this week and it’s more complicated now.
“One of my friends, I personally know him, he worked, same like me, as a translator of U.S. troops. He applied for the special immigrant visa five years ago,” Hemat said. “He is still waiting there. He is stuck there.”
Where will refugees go?
One question you might have: Where will these Afghan refugees be going?
For that, we turn to Chris George, the executive director of IRIS, a refugee assistance nonprofit in New Haven, Connecticut.
“We’ve welcomed about 12 families over the past month,” George said.
George says first the refugees will go to military installations. Fort Lee in Virginia has been processing Afghan refugees for weeks. Other locations like Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas will be used too.
George says once they are processed at a military base, refugee response groups like his are contacted, typically when a refugee has a family or a friend living in their particular region.
“As an illustration of the variety of the people we are welcoming and who has worked with the U.S. government, one of them worked on a judicial reform project and the other managed a laundry facility at a military base,” George said.
George typically sets up an apartment for them to live in.
If you’re inclined to help, there is a group just like his in a city near you.
“There are about 200 refugee resettlement nonprofits like ours around the United States,” George said.
He says RCUSA.org is a good place to find a nonprofit near you and he predicts wherever you go to help, they’ll be busy. He believes 100,000 Afghan refugees could come to the U.S. over the next several months. If you encounter a family, his advice is to not be afraid to say hello.
“What I usually do, I shake their hand, say ‘Welcome to the United States. We are glad you are here. We are glad you are safe. And I’m really sorry about what’s happened,’” George said.