Seven years ago, Omid Ahmadzai relied on a special immigration visa for refugees to flee Afghanistan for the United States.
On Monday, he stood in front of Durham City Hall and bemoaned the fate of those fellow countrymen who have worked as translators and guides for the U.S. military but remain trapped in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan including those targeted last week by an ISIS terrorist attack.
Ahmadzai says at least 65,000 Afghans who worked for the U.S. government or the military are still trapped in the country as of August 30, a day before President Biden has promised to pull U.S. troops out of the country.
“I want the U.S. to not forget the interpreters and guides who worked with the U.S. government,” said Ahmadzai, who added that he wanted Biden to honor his promise to evacuate the thousands of Afghans who put their lives at risk to help America.
Ahmadzai’s plea happened during a press conference in which he was joined by Mayor Steve Schewel, city council members, the county’s board of commissioners, and leaders of several relief agencies.
“We’re here to tell the world that Durham is ready to welcome Afghanistan’s residents to our city,” Schewel said. “And we want the world to learn that Durham will welcome and embrace them.”
Schewel shared a bit of personal history to the battery of reporters, noting that his grandfather was six months old when he fled with his parents from the Russian Empire 125 years ago and settled in America.
“They were refugees,” said Schewel who said his family “was fleeing the Czar and the pogroms against Jews, religious and economic persecution,” when they arrived in America from Lithuania.
“There are billions of Americans who have similar stories,” the mayor said.
The mayor’s message of welcome and support for the Afghan refugees who are expected to begin arriving in the Bull City over the next few months was echoed by elected leaders and refugee advocates.
Brenda Howerton, chair of the Durham Board of County Commissioners, also paused to honor the 13 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Afghan citizens who lost their lives following a suicide attack last week at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Howerton noted that Durham has a long history of opening its doors to immigrants and refugees. That tradition includes welcoming people from Ethiopia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Palestine.
“It’s time for us to show our sincere gratitude as you recover from your trauma and thrive in this community,” Howerton said, addressing the incoming refugees. “We want to be a safe harbor for your families.”
County Commissioner Nida Allam said the Bull City is blessed for welcoming the refugees who are arriving after decades of struggle and strife. Allam, who is the first Muslim woman in North Carolina to hold elected office, noted that the Prophet Muhammad was once a refugee who fled from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution.
Allam, who noted that Durham is a city of multi-religious faiths, shared part of an Islamic Hadith that offers promise to those who give comfort to others.
“Whoever grants respite to someone in difficulty or relieves him, God will shade him when there is no shade,” Allam said.
Adam Clark, director of World Relief Durham, which is tasked with helping the “100 or more” refugees to resettle, highlighted “the overwhelming support and goodwill” that’s already taking place in anticipation of their arrival, he said.
“We will be prepared, however many might come,” Clark added.
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