Afghan women's rights leader Roshan Mashal was profiled by NBC on World Refugee Day in a piece about the pathway to resettlement in the U.S. and the challenges she and her family – and thousands of other Afghan evacuees – have faced since leaving their country. Our Executive Director, Teresa Casale, was also interviewed and told NBC how Mina’s List has been working to support the resettlement of Afghan women leaders and activists who have come under threat since the Taliban takeover.
Ms. Mashal and her family were among the more than 76,000 Afghan evacuees who arrived in the U.S. after the Taliban seized control of the country last August. Though grateful to have been able to make it to the U.S., Ms. Mashal recalled the host of new challenges that arose once she and her family began navigating the resettlement system in America. Ms. Mashal’s family first arrived at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, a military base repurposed as a refugee camp for nearly 13,000 Afghans. Conditions in the camp were difficult, with little to no privacy and lengthy waiting times for food, clothing, and medical assessments.
In the months since, they have grappled with significant delays accessing social services – including receiving food stamps, Medicaid, Social Security numbers, and work permits – all of which are essential to rebuilding a life in the U.S.
Navigating life in a new country as a refugee has been far from easy. It has taken a village to help Ms. Mashal find her way. Ms. Mashal credited Mina’s List, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, and personal friends, with helping her and many other Afghan women, in their resettlement journeys. Her family also received support from White’s Chapel United Methodist Refugee Initiative
Our Executive Director Ms. Casale explained why supporting Afghan women is more important than ever. Looking back at the evacuations last year, Ms. Casale recalled:
“Just knowing the demographics [of evacuees being prioritized by the U.S. government] we realized those [were] mostly men…The U.S. government’s overall approach…fail[ed] Afghan women and Afghan women leaders in particular. Everything from the peace process to the withdrawal to evacuation and resettlement.”
Today, ten months after their arrival in the U.S., Ms. Mashal and her family continue to adjust to their new lives. Ms. Mashal currently has a one-year fellowship at the University of Texas at Arlington Women’s and Gender Studies program, arranged with the help of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Texas International Education Consortium. Her family’s next step will be to apply for asylum, so that once the two-year grace period that allowed them to enter the U.S. as humanitarian parolees ends, they will be allowed to remain living and working in the country legally. However, when the time to submit their applications comes, processing could take years due to severe backlogs in the system. This is why Mina’s List, women leaders like Mashal, and refugee organizations around the country have continued to call for an Afghan Adjustment Act.
Ms. Mashal also acknowledges that, despite the significant challenges, her connections and experiences gained from years spent “working alongside U.S. organizations to promote equality for women in Afghanistan” have helped ease the process of rebuilding a new life in America for her and her family. Many other Afghan refugees face significant language and cultural barriers, and will likely have a much harder time resettling in a new country like the U.S.
“I worry about women and girls here. Many of them are illiterate and don’t understand the transportation system…It is so different from Afghanistan. They need support.”
Most of all, Ms. Mashal said, she is concerned for the women and girls still in Afghanistan, unable to escape Taliban rule – but she is determined to continue advocating on their behalf and every day works to ensure the international community does not forget them.
“Every day all I think about are the people left behind in Afghanistan…I am committed to continu[ing] my work fighting for women and human rights. I will never accept the Taliban’s ideology for women and girls and will continue our struggle.”
Read the full article here, and watch the video interview here.