Afghan refugees in Utah express fear over Taliban takeover and hope for the country’s future

For the past week, watching the news from her native Afghanistan, Safuora Noori has had nightmares.

“She has been living through hell for days,” said her daughter, Safia, who translates for her mother.

Safuora, 47, came back to life more than 20 years ago, fleeing the Taliban, who killed members of her family. Safuora took her children – Safia, now 24, was 2 at the time – to Iran, where they were refugees before coming to Utah almost nine years ago.

“She couldn’t sleep at night. She said when she slept at night all these dreams came to her, ”Safia said of her mother. “She’s so worried about her family and the other people there. … She is so worried, not only for her family but for everyone. She lived it once, so she didn’t want others to relive it.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Safuora Noori (front) and her daughter Safia Noori, are Afghan refugees, living in Salt Lake City on Thursday, August 19, 2021.

As the US-backed Afghan government crumbled over the approach of Taliban forces, Afghan immigrants and refugees in Utah watched the news, spoke to people still there, and remembered why they had left.

Hanifa Javadi, who fled Afghanistan at the age of 7 and has lived in Utah for five years, remembers how the Taliban treated women when they once ruled the country.

“[Women] must wear a burqa, ”said Javadi, now 34. “They can’t work outside. They have to stay at home. They can’t study. They say a woman can study until the sixth grade, and at 12 or 13 she has to get married. Javadi said she got married at 13, while living in Iran – and briefly returned to Afghanistan.

“When the Taliban arrived, they brainwashed all the men, especially the older men,” said Javadi, who sometimes used Safia Noori as a translator. (The three women know each other through the refugee organization Women of the World.) “They don’t want women to have freedom. If you’re a woman, you should be like somebody’s wife, somebody’s daughter. You don’t have your own identity. You always have to be with men.

A different Taliban?

Aman Raheemi, 37, left Afghanistan nine years ago and arrived in Utah five years ago. Although he said “it is very soon to talk about Afghanistan,” the first days of the Taliban’s re-emergence provided some small signs of hope.

For example, Raheemi said, a Taliban spokesperson told US media that the new regime would forgive Afghans who worked with the US-backed government.

“It’s kind of a sign of a change in the Taliban system, from the perspective of the Taliban,” he said.

Additionally, Raheemi watched a few recent Afghan TV shows and noticed that they played music – once banned by the Taliban – and allowed a presenter to be clean-shaven, which the “old” Taliban would not tolerate. not.

The Afghan people “are not the people of 20 years ago,” Raheemi said. “These are the people of new technologies, of social media. … Afghanistan is a new generation, more open-minded.

Another student living in Utah and born in Afghanistan is less optimistic. The student – who asked to be called Karim because he still has family in Afghanistan and doesn’t want them targeted – said he heard from residents of his old home that the Taliban are still up to the task. of their old brutal ways.

“They do a lot of things that social media doesn’t reflect at all,” Karim said, adding that the positive image the Taliban is trying to portray is designed to appeal to foreign governments – whose recognition must strengthen their grip.

Karim left Afghanistan with his parents for Utah in 2018 because his father worked for the US government. He said the fall of the Afghan government was predictable.

“Everyone expected this to happen someday, but not so quickly,” Karim said. “No one expected this to happen in a few weeks.”

Raheemi said the Afghans are “a little shocked right now” and that it will take time – maybe weeks, maybe months – to see what the Taliban will do.

“It’s like we’re in a coma right now,” Raheemi said. “Either we die or we will come back to life. “

Safia Noori, like her mother, does not trust reports that the Taliban are softening their extremism.

“They want to say that they are changing, that they are not like the Taliban of 20 years ago. But that’s not true, ”said Safia, who works as a lab technician in a medical clinic.

Twenty years ago, Safia said: “Once the Taliban arrived, no one had a choice. There was no social media to talk about them. Right now we have the news, we have social media,… and we can tell everyone how terrible the Taliban is. “

Javadi, who has her own sewing business and hires other refugee women, said she was encouraged by Utah Governor Spencer Cox’s offer to allow Afghan refugees to settle in Utah. . However, this only helps a small fraction of the population.

“How many refugees can they accommodate? Like a thousand, two thousand, three thousand? Javadi said. “They cannot take all the Afghans from Afghanistan.”

Javadi said she hopes for good news from Afghanistan.

“We don’t want 20 years to come back. So many people have sacrificed themselves to have a life. We don’t want these people, people who are dead, we don’t want their blood to be useless, ”Javadi said. “We don’t want dark days. We want bright days.

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