‘Hopeless and helpless’: Afghanis in Utah concerned for family in Middle East

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Wali Arshad hasn’t slept very well lately.

From over 7,000 miles away, Arshad was up until 4 a.m. on Monday morning, watching the crisis in his home country of Afghanistan develop into full-blown chaos.

A resident of Utah for the last eight years, Arshad had been attempting to get in contact with family and friends living in the capital city of Kabul, which was taken by Taliban forces with little resistance over the weekend. He managed to get a hold of his aunt briefly, other than that, it has been radio silence with his loved ones.

“She was very worried about the situation but everybody’s so lost, they don’t know what to do or what to expect,” he soberly explains to ABC4.com.

Getting to Utah in 2013 was a “straightforward” process for Arshad, who had worked for the United Nations at the Ministry of the Interior, assisting the U.S. Army by paying the salaries of police officers in Afghanistan. Shortly after arriving in the United States, he opened Afghan Kitchen, an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant in South Salt Lake.

Back then, it took him a few months to complete his background check to receive a visa to come to the United States. At that time he had the benefit of not frantically needing to escape what many believe will be an oppressive and brutal regime. Now, even if he could pull a few strings with his connections at the U.N., Arshad doesn’t believe he’d be able to bring his family over to the States at this time.

“I’m not able to do that,” he says. “I’m totally hopeless and helpless.”

Mirwice Mullahkhel, who owns the Market on Main Street and the Kabuli Cafe in downtown Salt Lake City would relate. He’s been here for years, owning the convenience store and restaurant on the corner of Main Street and 300 S, and has gained U.S. citizenship while supporting his wife and six children living in Afghanistan. He’s particularly worried about his daughter, who is 18 and preparing to attend college in Kabul.

Many experts have stated that a Taliban rule could be especially dangerous for women. Arshad remembers when the group had power back in the mid-90s, they were “beating everyone but women were affected very, very badly.” Recalling that females in the Taliban’s Afghanistan were forced to wear burqas and banned from attending school or having a job, Arshan says “they were basically prisoners to their homes.”

For now, Mullahkhel’s family is choosing to stay inside at their father’s insistence. Keeping an eye on his phone while serving customers at his store, he is not sure what will happen to them next. He’s been trying to get them on a flight to Turkey or Pakistan, but the airport has been closed after hundreds of Afghanis rushed the tarmac, desperately trying to flee the nation. The banks are also shut down, so he is unable to send additional help. Although he thought ahead and has paid thousands of dollars in visa and lawyer fees to get his family cleared for travel, their status is still pending.

“There’s no embassy in Kabul, no consulate to do something for these people,” he laments. “We don’t know what’s happening. I’m scared.”

With little to do but watch and wait for updates from home, both Arshan and Mullahkhel are saddened by not only the current circumstances but also at the feeling of loss after years of progress made to bring democracy and certain Western ideals to Afghanistan. Arshan received his master’s degree at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, a landmark institution when it was founded in 2006. Now, the future of that level of education, as well as the quality of life in Afghanistan, appears quite bleak to him and many others.

“That university that was an achievement,” he states. “Everybody was happy about that university and that’s not the only thing, we had a lot of other achievements in every area. And that’s going to go to waste. Everything will go to waste.”

As it stands, the world is watching to see what will happen in the Middle East. According to Mullahkhel, from his experience, things could change, for better or worse, at a moment’s notice.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Anything is possible in Afghanistan.”

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