Local refugee fears for safety of family and others in Afghanistan
In the coming months, the County of Santa Clara is prepared to assist refugees fleeing Afghanistan
THE COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, CALIF.— Along a quiet tree-lined street in Santa Clara County, Shukran Nazari looked over at his two-year-old daughter, filled with hope that her life is and will be much safer than his ever was.
He grew up in Afghanistan, where many have accepted that tomorrow is not certain, he said. Despite the risks of working for the U.S. Army and the American Embassy in Kabul, he did so diligently for a decade. During this time, he frequently hid his face and changed his route home in case he was being followed. His profession was a closely guarded secret from everyone outside of his family, even from his best friend.
“If they know you’re working for the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Army, they’re going to report you,” Nazari said.
Nazari is one of about 50,000 residents in Santa Clara County who have needed to escape danger in their home countries, seeking safety on American soil. He left Afghanistan in 2016 after his service for the American military was revealed and threats were made against his life. He landed in Santa Clara County with his wife and two small children – and nothing more than a suitcase of clothing.
Since then, he has built a safer and more stable life for himself and his family, optimistic about putting the danger behind him. But the fear came roaring back this summer, when he turned on the television and watched as chaos unfolded in Afghanistan, where familiar streets and buildings were taken over by the Taliban. Tears brimmed in his eyes.
“Every single minute, I’m thinking about it. No one over there is safe – not my family, not anyone else’s family,” Nazari said. He described a family member’s house in Afghanistan, recently sprayed with bullets by the Taliban. His relatives remain in hiding.
Over the next year, about 300 Afghans seeking safety will come to Santa Clara County. In preparation, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors recently approved unanimously a measure asking the Administration to find additional funding for resettlement assistance that covers housing, food, employment, and transportation needs for newly arriving refugees.
“These services forge a critical lifeline for arriving families and will provide support and care during an extraordinarily traumatic and unsettling time,” said Supervisor Susan Ellenberg. “As a County, it has always been part of our core values to be a place of refuge for those in need and this is absolutely a moment when we can and should be reinforcing that mission.”
Supervisor Otto Lee, who is a retired U.S. Navy commander and served as the Chief of Drawdown Material Policies in Iraq in 2009, called it heart wrenching to witness the chaos in Afghanistan.
“Many of these refugees are Afghans who served the American military as translators,” said Supervisor Lee. “Despite the risk of persecution, they supported American military interests. During this time of crisis, we must step up and respond urgently to provide whatever assistance they need to seek safety for themselves and their families.”
One out of every 40 residents in Santa Clara County is a refugee who has relied on local resettlement services.
“Santa Clara County has served as a resettlement location for other communities fleeing persecution and danger,” said Miguel Márquez, Chief Operating Officer for the County of Santa Clara. “Coming together to help others during their most trying time is one of our greatest strengths as a community. This is who we are; this is where our diversity and cultural richness comes from.”
Even today, when Nazari uses an item donated to him when he first arrived, he pauses to say a prayer for the person who helped him get back on his feet when all he had was a suitcase of clothes.
“We thank God and the people who have helped us,” Nazari said. “The people who are being evacuated now from Afghanistan, they need every single thing, including diapers, clothes, kitchen supplies. If you believe in humanity, please, whatever you can do, try to help.”
How to help
The County of Santa Clara has partnered with two non-profit organizations to help the Afghan refugee community. To learn more about the local work being done for refugees and how to help, visit the websites for:
Mindy Berkowitz, Executive Director of Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, explains the importance of refugee resettlement services