Afghans in USF community advocate for change

A protest organized by the United Afghan Association. PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAH HAKIMI

When the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan Aug. 15, Afghans around the world felt the shock of the news. This impact stretched over 7,000 miles and was felt right here on the Hilltop. 

While born and raised in California, freshman Adah Hakimi’s family still lives in Afghanistan. “We’re on the phone with them every single night,” Hakimi said. “And every night they keep saying the same thing, ‘Please get us out of here.’”

The Taliban’s swift takeover of the country shocked and frightened Hakimi’s family. “When you see that flag being taken down and replaced, you just feel numb,” Hakimi said. “For not just my family but for Afghans everywhere, it was a day of hopelessness.”

The political turmoil quickly initiated an international humanitarian crisis. One of the largest predicaments for the United States government was to evacuate nearly 300,000 Afghans who were associated with the American mission. The U.S. airlifted about 130,000 Afghans to eight processing centers in the U.S., one of the largest mass evacuations in history. Beginning Oct. 1, the Biden Administration will raise the refugee admissions cap to 125,000, with 35,000 coming from near East and South Asia. However these undertakings are only the beginning of a larger crisis as so few of the 300,000 are able to achieve refugee status. 

For those who escaped, “you don’t know where you’re going,” said Hakimi. “You could be going to Pakistan, Iran – you could be going anywhere.” Once placed in a country, refugees have no notion of whether they will even be accepted or how long they will be detained. 

USF linguistics professor Dr. Sedique Popal also felt connected to this crisis. During the Soviet-Afghan War, Popal said he was one of 5 million Afghan  refugees who fled the country. “I didn’t come here looking for a job,” he said. “I was a professor in Afghanistan; I was very happy. I left the country because of [them].” 

Like Hakimi, Dr. Popal has family members in Afghanistan still struggling to leave. His nieces, now 21, “tried to make it to the Kabul Airport six times,” said Popal, “and they were beaten by the Taliban six times.” 

Under the Taliban’s rule, the lives of women have been threatened. Hakimi’s college-aged female cousins can no longer attend school. Suddenly, “everything has just stopped. They cannot go back,” she said. 

Unmarried women between the ages of 12 and 40 are being forced into arranged marriages with Taliban fighters, Popal said. For Popal’s sister-in-law and nieces, this is a great concern. “They are so scared,” he said. “There’s no tomorrow for Afghanistan if the Taliban are in power.”

Both Popal and Hakimi have been active in their local communities in response to the situation. Popal, president of the Noor Islamic Cultural and Community Center in Concord, Calif., started a relief effort for thousands of Afghan refugees. His organization creates care packages, including clothing, toiletry, and houseware items, to distribute to Afghans resettling in the Bay Area. Since July 30, over 200 Afghan refugees have relocated to the Bay Area and hundreds more are expected to arrive in the coming months. 

Over the past month, Popal’s team has received immense support. “People were so generous,” he said. “We don’t have room for any more [physical] donations.” However, he said, monetary donations are welcome via the center’s website

Dr. Popal and the Noor Islamic Cultural Center have been making care packages to welcome resettled Afghan refugees in the Bay Area. PHOTO COURTESY OF SEDIQUE POPAL 

Hakimi also began taking donations that are rerouted to her aunt’s fiance, and his efforts to aid  displaced Afghan families, providing them with food, tents, clothing, and other items. 

In addition to financial support, Hakimi participated in various political rallies, such as protests organized by the United Afghan Association. “Lately, I’m trying to go to every single protest that I can and get as many people to go,” Hakimi said.  She encourages the USF community to march with her and “raise awareness for the people that are struggling and dying” in Afghanistan. 

Popal agreed that civic engagement is an essential tool to help Afghan refugees. “The biggest help that students could give is to voice concern to politicians to find a way to get these people out.” 

Both Dr. Popal and Hakimi would like to see more student engagement and discourse on campus regarding the crisis in Afghanistan. USF’s Middle East and North Africa club recently held a fundraiser outside the John Lo Schiavo, S.J. Center for Science and Innovation. 

Popal and Hakimi strongly encourage the USF community to educate themselves on the situation, to donate to relief efforts if possible, and to advocate on behalf of the Afghan people. “We need more than just the Afghan community to be talking about this,” Hakimi said.

If you would like to contact your U.S. representatives about the situation in Afghanistan, text the word “CRISIS” to 52886. Message and data rates may apply.

Megan Robertson is a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major. She can be reached at or on Instagram @megrrobertson.


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