Durham to welcome Afghan refugees fleeing turmoil of Taliban takeover in Afghanistan

Ana Rivera Image
Monday, August 30, 2021
Durham to welcome Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban control
"Durham will welcome these new residents. We will embrace them. We will love them," Mayor Schewel said.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham will open its arms and welcome Afghan refugees to the city.

Mayor Steve Schewel and other local leaders held a news conference Monday morning to officially state that Afghan refugees were welcome in Durham and would be loved as soon as they arrived.

The refugees are fleeing their home country as the Taliban takes over the county after the collapse of the Afghan government amid the withdrawal of US troops.

ABC11 spoke with an Afghan refugee in Durham who emigrated here a few years ago. He said his 20-year-old cousin died last week during the suicide bomb attack at Kabul Airport, which also killed 13 US service members.

"My family we are so sad. When I called for his mom, his mom was crying. 'I lost my young son.' And he was an innocent guy," said Omid Ahmadzai who said the situation in Kabul is getting more desperate.

RELATED: US anti-missile system fired to intercept rockets at Kabul airport

Rocket fire apparently targeting Kabul's international airport struck a nearby neighborhood Monday, the eve of the American troop withdraw deadline.

Ahmadzai escaped Kabul in 2015 after he said the Taliban tracked down and murdered his brother, a member of the Afghan Army.

"I receive many, many calls from Afghanistan every day," Ahmadzai said. "Please do something. Raise our rights there in the US to the US Government. We are under attack here in Kabul. We are waiting for somebody to come and kill us. It's a tough life there now,"

The 29-year-old father of three said he wants to get his parents here because the situation is so dangerous they are afraid to leave the house.

"They're stuck at home," he said. "They cannot get out. The same time, they need some shopping. They are going and come back so quick."

"Durham will welcome these new residents. We will embrace them. We will love them," Mayor Schewel said.

A number of organizations said they will be coming together over the coming weeks and months to make sure Afghan refugees have jobs, a place to live and other resources.

The goal is to make them comfortable in Durham and set them up to succeed.

RELATED: America's longest war ends after 20 years as last US troops depart Afghanistan

Church World Service and World Relief Durham said it's hard to know how many families will be relocated to Durham. That's because the families go through an intake process at military bases, then families get to chose between a list of cities.

The groups are federally funded but also rely on the community to donate money, rental properties, furniture and essential items, while they help the refugees find work.

CWS was a lifeline when Ahmadzai arrived.

"Durham will be the best place for them, for the new refugees coming here," Ahmadzai said. "This is a nice place. And people are nice here. I love the people here,"

He had a message for US leaders.

"We want for the government to take care of them. Do not break your promise to help them, as they helped you in a bad situation in Afghanistan during the fight," he said.

As of now, Durham expects more than 100 refugees to select the city as their next home.

"We want to welcome these people who are fleeing very difficult circumstances. We want to welcome them to our city and we want them to know that Durham will welcome these new residents. We will embrace them. We will love them," Schewel said.

Durham has even created a brand new position: Refugee Coordinator. Schewel said the city is closing in on filling that position; the person hired will work directly with the organizations coordinating the arrivals of the families.

"To my fellow Durhamites..I ask you to open your homes, your businesses and your community spaces to our new neighbors," said Nida Allam, Durham County Commissioner.

Between 250 and 300 refugees landed in Philadelphia on Sunday.

"These folks have suffered greatly. They're traumatized, with children with them. We just want to have open arms and a welcoming atmosphere," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.

The refugees are being tested for COVID-19 and then given access to immigration services, along with housing and medical assistance.

The NC Department of Health and Human Services released a statement to ABC11 about incoming Afghan refugees across the state:

"NCDHHS' North Carolina State Refugee Office works in collaboration with a wide array of partners and stakeholders to provide services to refugees that support their health, safety, and well-being. When refugees arrive in the state, local resettlement agencies will provide them and their families the same support and services that other refugee populations receive. The current processes for welcoming refugees from Afghanistan are in line with the well-established system in place for the broader population of refugees served by the state and the local resettlement partners."

If you would like to help support Church World Service or World Relief Durham in their efforts, you can click the links below: