‘I feel so helpless’: Boise woman pleads for help evacuating family from Afghanistan

As self-imposed deadline to withdraw approaches, time is running out for evacuation

By: - August 26, 2021 4:15 am

The passport photos of Saida Razaee’s family in Afghanistan, from left: Taiba Mehry; Sultan Aziz Mehry; Maryam Mehry, age 21; Eltaf Hussain Mehry, age 10; Hamida Mehry, age 18; Edris Hussain Mehry, age 9; and Basira Mehry, age 13 (Courtesy of Saida Razaee).

The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and subsequent takeover of the Taliban gives Boise resident Saida Razaee the worst form of déjà vu.

Razaee came to Boise in 2003 as a refugee from Afghanistan when she was 14 years old, after the first time the Taliban took control of the country in 1996.

“I came out on a day much like what you see now, in chaos,” Razaee said. “The only difference was there were bullets and rockets flying over our heads.”

Razaee graduated from Boise State University with a chemistry degree and became a process engineer for a local semiconductor company. Her parents and siblings also live in Idaho, but Razaee has extended family members in Afghanistan who have been unable to leave. She is in contact with her aunts and one uncle daily.

“My aunt’s neighbor’s house was actually taken over by the Taliban, and they turned it into a station, so (my aunt’s family) is literally facing death every second,” she said. “They can’t even go into their own backyards because they’re being watched.”

President Joe Biden has stated the United States is determined to have all troops out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. It is unknown what will happen with the Taliban after that date, which could complicate refugee efforts. There have been efforts underway to evacuate translators and other Afghans who assisted the U.S. Army over the course of the past 20 years, but Razaee said families like hers still matter in this process.

“Everywhere I go they say, ‘Were they involved with the American Army?’ and they weren’t, so what do we do now?” Razaee said. “Do we just forget about them because they’re not useful or something? Do we just kill them because they didn’t work for the American Army?”

Idaho’s senators work with staff, State Department to get people out

Razaee said she has filled out many forms with various agencies locally and nationally and attempted to contact Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s office for help, but her efforts haven’t resulted in action. Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s spokesman, told the Idaho Capital Sun they are receiving many constituent calls on the issue and working as quickly as they can.

“Our constituent services team is working timely and diligently to assist any Idahoans that contact Senator Crapo for assistance on a federal matter, including the ongoing evacuation efforts in Afghanistan,” Nothern said in a written statement. “We have received an influx of casework requests since late last week concerning this issue and remain committed to doing what we can to help those who have contacted us.”

In a statement sent Wednesday evening, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said every Idahoan remaining in Afghanistan has now been evacuated. He praised the staff of the Foreign Relations Committee, the State Department and his Idaho office for working to save American lives.

“There are many more people who wish to leave Afghanistan, and I know there are Idahoans who have reached out to my office for evacuation assistance for their families and friends, in some cases,” he said. “The (Biden) administration’s arbitrary and rapidly approaching deadline is making it difficult to complete our mission, but we will continue to pursue these open cases and do all that we can to get these people out of there.”

Slobodanka Hodzic, director of the Agency for New Americans organization in Boise, said she and her staff are working to sift through misinformation around the situation in Afghanistan to be able to help families as much as possible. There is a form on the U.S. Department of State website for a repatriation assistance request that Hodzic recommended for those seeking evacuation for family members.

“Everybody’s worried the airport (in Kabul) will close, and relatives here want to help their relatives in Afghanistan to be able to leave, because there’s so much unknown,” Hodzic said. “… We pray and hope for people to be safe and for relatives to connect and be able to join. We are here to support and we are thankful to the community for its support.”

Time is of the essence for family members, Boise woman says 

Razaee and her family members are an ethnic minority of Afghanistan called Hazaras, who have historically been persecuted and victims of mass violence. Throughout the past 20 years, Razaee said more Hazara women have had access to education in Afghanistan, including her 21-year-old cousin Maryam Mehry, who is a journalist and women’s rights advocate. That puts her at greater risk of being killed by the Taliban, Razaee said, despite the group’s recent statements that it will respect women.  

“Just to see that kind of talent and brain just go to complete waste, I feel so responsible, I feel so helpless,” Razaee said. “I feel like I need to get her out, because if she dies, we don’t have many of these kind of women in Afghanistan… there aren’t that many, and we have to save every single one of them. We have to protect them with our lives.”

According to the Idaho Office for Refugees, Idaho has accepted 844 refugees from Afghanistan since 2000. Razaee said if Idaho accepts her family as refugees, they would not be a burden on the state.

“In every form I’ve filled out, I have written that I will give these people basic necessities and housing until they are settled here. They’re going to build a life for themselves, they’re not going to become a burden,” she said. “… We don’t really need anybody’s immediate help. We just need to get them out, and once they get here, we’ll take care of them.”

Above all, Razaee is calling for action at the state level from senators and anyone else who can help in some way.

“Please do something about this, because as we wait, more people are going to die,” she said.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.