Sherrill Eager to Flag Cases of Vulnerable Afghan Women Leaders

Sherrill

One woman inside Afghanistan tells me she still can’t comprehend that she woke up one day and her entire life had changed. 

“I am living a nightmare,” the woman, a community activist in Afghanistan, wrote in Farsi. “I hope that one day I can wake up from this nightmare. I hope it’s just a dream. I never could imagine that people could live with such fear.”

The woman, whose identity we are not revealing, writes she’s angry with Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country right before the Taliban took over Kabul. Hours earlier, Ghani had gone on television assuring the Afghan people everything would be secure.

“To be so selfish that you bring a whole society down to nothing,” said the woman, referring to Ghani. “My brain can’t take all of this pain.”

The same pain is being felt by women and girls all across Afghanistan. Many of them weren’t even born when the Taliban brutally ruled from 1996 to 2001.

The Taliban wouldn’t allow women to work. Girls couldn’t attend school and many were forced into arranged marriages at the age of 12 and even younger. Women couldn’t go out in public alone, either. They had to be accompanied by a male figure, including a husband, brother or father. 

New Jersey Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from the 11th District, says there’s an urgent need to protect women and girls in Afghanistan, especially female leaders. Sherrill is one of the lead signers of a letter sent to Secretary of State Tony Blinkin asking that immigration laws be loosened so that Afghan women leaders can come to the United States if they wish to do so. 

“We urge you to create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, judges, parliamentarians, journalists, and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces, and to streamline the paperwork process to facilitate referrals to allow for fast, humane, and efficient relocation to the United States,” the letter reads. “We also urge you to increase processing capacity within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and to immediately appoint an interagency refugee coordinator.”

The letter, which was signed on August 19th, warned that “In areas captured by the Taliban, there are reports of war crimes, including summary executions, public beatings and floggings of women, sexual violence and forced marriage, as well as clampdowns on media and other forms of communication.” 

Sherrill and other representatives sitting on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, have questioned both the Trump and Biden Administrations on whether Afghan women and girls would be safe under former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban that set an August 31st deadline for U.S. Troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. 

“I was in House Arms Services hearings under the Trump administration questioning officials about this as they went forward with these negotiations — what was the plan for Afghan women and girls?” Sherrill said.

Sherrill says she plans on questioning the Biden administration, as well, in order to get to the bottom of “What happened, why it happened and how it happened?” But she says her first priority is to make sure Americans, Afghan partners and women and girls in Afghanistan, whose lives are in danger, are evacuated. 

Sherrill spent a decade on active duty in the U.S. Navy, flying missions throughout Europe and the Middle East as a Sea King helicopter pilot. The mother of four says it’s heartbreaking to know Afghan girls and women are losing their rights.

“We’ve seen wonderful stories about the Afghan (girls) soccer team, robotics and leaders, and women voting and women assuming this kind of offices and journalists,” Sherrill said. “So now because of their leadership they are now truly in danger and we need to help them.” 

Rough estimates are that at least 45 percent of the more than 88,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan so far are women and children.

During a Wednesday press conference, Blinkin said 1,500 Americans still remain in Afghanistan and that the U.S. has been in touch with an additional 500 Americans, giving them specific instructions on how to get to the airport. He adds since August 14, a total of 4,400 Americans have been safely evacuated from Afghanistan. 

Republicans like New York Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis say many Americans can’t get to the airport and they fear they’ll be abandoned when American troops withdraw on August 31st.

“Let’s make it clear,” she told Fox News. “We’re not leaving without Americans.” 

Blinkin says the U.S. will continue to work everyday after the deadline to get Americans out. He says the U.S. has a commitment from the Taliban they will provide safe passage to Americans and Afghans, who helped the U.S., so they can reach the airport in Kabul.

However, the U.S. government admits even as current evacuations are underway, the Taliban are preventing some Afghan partners from entering the airport. An Afghan news station reports the Taliban is telling Afghans to stay home and not go to the airport. 

Most, including Sherrill, don’t believe the Taliban can be trusted, and believe time is running out. 

“Congressional districts across the country are receiving hundreds and hundreds of requests for support in getting people out of Afghanistan, and we have not had a way yet to flag for the State Department that these are specifically vulnerable women.” Sherrill said.

 “So we’ve been working separately to give them more information on each of the cases. We would like to see a better sense that we could categorize them going into the State Department to know that they can track the people in Afghanistan. I know, for example, they’re working hard to see how many Americans are still on the ground, and get them out — to track the special immigrants and their families.”

Sherrill is also concerned for other groups in Afghanistan, including the Hazara people. As InsiderNJ first reported, activist Homira Rezai says the Taliban are going door-to-door looking for Hazara people, who practice Shia Islam. The Taliban are Sunni Muslims. 

“We are very different in terms of our physical features so we look very Far East Asian because of our origin, which is Turkic Mongols,” Rezai said.

Rezai and her family fled Afghanistan when she was 13 years old. She says the Taliban have a history of persecuting Hazara people.

“In August of 1998, they went on a killing frenzy, and according to Human Rights Watch, killed 10,000 Hazaras,” Rezai added. 

“We want assurances that they are tracking people like Hazara people and vulnerable women, and which category they fall into so that we can track it and we can better understand it,” Sherrill said. “Not just in the district, but quite frankly, as members of Congress providing oversight and understanding of how many people we need to get out, how we’re categorizing them, how we’re processing them, who will be getting out and why.” 

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