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The 'hard-to-hear' question Afghan refugees asked this Richmond mother: 'Sorry, I'll start crying'

Mina Tabibi: 'My parent's immigration story is tragic for me, but at least my family got out'
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Posted at 10:15 PM, Aug 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-29 23:46:10-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of Afghan refugees are now calling Central Virginia home whether temporarily or permanently. As a massive effort continues in the Middle East to get people out of Afghanistan, massive operations are also underway in the Commonwealth to help them resettle. And two local women with strong ties to Afghanistan are stepping up to help vulnerable families.

"Anger, sadness, shock," is what Mina Tabibi feels as she watches the crisis in Afghanistan unfold.

"I'm going to cry myself to sleep tonight," she said. "I can't. I just can't."

The Richmond mother has a strong connection to the country, now taken over by the Taliban. While Tabibi grew up in Virginia, her family escaped Afghanistan in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion.

"My parent's immigration story is tragic for me, but at least my family got out," said Tabibi.

Mina Tabibi
Mina Tabibi

Right now, countless Afghans are desperate to get out too. Some refugees who have are now being sheltered in Central Virginia.

As of Sunday, 650 are being housed at Fort Pickett, according to the mayor of Blackstone, Billy Coleburn.

Governor Northam said at least 8,000 have been taken to Fort Lee in Prince George, and others are at Quantico in Northern Virginia.

RELATED: Philadelphia will join Dulles as arrival site for 'one of the largest airlifts in history'

Afghanistan Helping Refugees
A sign marks one of the entrances of the U.S. Army base Fort Lee Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, in Petersburg, Va. Afghan refugees who have been prescreened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been taken to Fort Lee and other temporary reception centers are being set up at Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Tabibi met some refugees Sunday, and she said the stories are horrifying.

"Families are being torn apart," she said. "I met a mother who wasn't even able to bring two of her children because they couldn't make it to the airport."

Outside the typical relocation questions, she said people have consistently asked her another question that she said breaks her heart.

"Over and over again, they ask 'Are the Americans going to embrace us?' Sorry, I'll start crying right now," Tabibi said. "It was hard to hear that."

 Farah Salam Hottle
Farah Salam Hottle

"There's so much misunderstanding and misperception about Muslims," said Farah Salam Hottle. "The Taliban does not represent Islam for us, and they don't represent our values."

Hottle, whose family is also from Afghanistan, currently works with several different agencies helping evacuees resettle in Virginia. That includes the Islamic Center of Virginia, Commonwealth Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committe, and Islamic Relief.

She categorizes the needs of refugees into short-term and long-term.

"Housing is the first thing, which is in short supply and high demand," Hottle said. "But in particular, for Afghan evacuees, it's really important that they find affordable housing that is in a safe area, but also close to public transportation."

APTOPIX US Afghanistan
Families evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Then, she helps them get connected to jobs.

"We'll be able to deliver other resources like career services because you've got folks who are coming over who had jobs as doctors, as lawyers, as public service, officials, and they're taking jobs that frankly, they're so overqualified for, but it's what they've got to do," she said.

Hottle said the Afghan community that has already been established in Central Virginia will help them feel comfortable.

"It's certainly important to feel a sense of community and to build relationships," Hottle said. "We do have a pretty active community of settled Afghans here in Richmond."

Afghan Refugees Virginia
A military truck exits the main gate to Fort Pickett Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, in Blackstone, Va. Afghan refugees who have been prescreened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been taken to Fort Lee as well as Fort Pickett according to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Of the Afghan refugees coming to Virginia military bases, Governor Northam said 10% will permanently reside in the Commonwealth. So if you notice a new neighbor, Hottle encourages you to welcome them with open arms.

"They are very loving and hospitable people," she said. "An Afghan is probably the best friend you can have."

More Virginia sites set to welcome Afghan immigrant influx
Poeple evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through the terminal before boarding a bus after they arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, in Chantilly, Va., on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

And for the little Afghan girls now growing up in America, Tabibi hopes to serve as an inspiration.

"I showed them photos of my house, my daughter, my dog, and I said with an education, you can have everything," Tabibi said. "And you don't need a husband for it. Yes, I went there."

Anyone who wants to help can donate to the Islamic Center of Virginia. In the drop down menu, click "refugee" and 100% of the money will go toward resettlement efforts.

If you would like to volunteer your time, you can send an email to AfghansRVA@gmail.com to see how you can get involved.