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Afghans In Arizona: Hope For The Best But Expect The Worst

Nakib is a former translator who worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan as an interpreter who has been here for four years.

Asif is also an ex-translator with Special Forces and U.S. Marines who arrived in Arizona in 2020.

Yagana first came to Arizona as a teenager as a high school exchange student.

Since all three have family still there, we’re using their first names only.

Nakib first arrived in Los Angeles, but found the cost of living and the job market more to his liking in Phoenix.

“Arizona is the best place to start from the bottom up. Life is pretty much easier than any other state that I’ve ever been to. And it’s the perfect weather! We love the monsoon and the sun. And the people of Arizona have been very nice to me," Nakib said. 

Asif says they have been welcomed warmly because of their work as military translators.

“I receive love, respect and honor. And now I feel proud that I worked with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. It gives me a very good feeling that I’ve worked with them, as a brother, shoulder to shoulder, we were in the same fight there," Asif said. 

After returning briefly to Afghanistan after high school, Yagana returned to Arizona to make it her permanent home. She’s from Kandahar — a Taliban stronghold, and she first arrived she was wearing a headscarf or hijab worn by Muslim women to cover their hair.

“The Uber driver saw me — I removed my scarf because it was so hot that day, it was in August. My roommate, she still had her scarf on. He looked at her and said get out of the car. He made both of us get out of the car and was like, 'I’m not taking you terrorists in the car,'” she said.

But nothing like that has happened since. Instead, Yagana has thrived, now a doctoral student at ASU’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. She's also part of Project Artemis, a unique program designed to train Afghan women entrepreneurs just like her.

That makes the events of the past few weeks particularly hard to swallow.

“Imagine you have the wings to do whatever you want and then all of the sudden, boom — they just cut 'em off and tell you, yup — we taught you how to fly, but you no longer can fly, I’m sorry,” said Yagana.

"Imagine you have the wings to do whatever you want and then all of the sudden, boom — they just cut 'em off and tell you, yup — we taught you how to fly, but you no longer can fly." — Yagana, doctoral student at ASU’s Thunderbird School

Asif and Nakib fear most for the women who were left behind.

“I have sisters there, they’ve threatened with rape. I had to hide her — send her to one of my friends’ houses in Kabul, she’s hiding there because they already know — she’s my sister and I worked with (the) U.S government and for them, we’re traitors,” said Asif.

“The Taliban may say there’s freedom, but there’s no freedom. Those girls that have been to school, they have invested 20 years, they’ll be staying at home and there will be no life for them to go to work,” said Nakib.

Yagana regrets that it took the total collapse of the Afghan government to get people to pay attention to their plight.

“We have been through it and we know how it feels. And now that it’s our turn, nobody’s talking. I’m getting emotional because I literally lost three friends over the past week. I mean, do our lives not matter?”

For Nakib’s family and others like it, the situation is bleak.

“I am fearful. This fear is with me all the time, 24/7 and I don’t see any hope. The Taliban is going to hand down the families of the people that used to work for the U.S. government, or NATO or Afghan Government. That takes me into depression," Nakib said. 

All three say they believe the U.S. will do all it can to get their families here to join there, but even though he’s only been here for a short time, Asif knows immigration policy can get complicated.

“I am hoping and expecting that the US Embassy and U.S. government should provide more ways to evacuate them and make it a little easier. I know it’s kind of hard because we have to be careful about who we are bringing in.”

If they’re lucky enough to get out, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees could find new homes in places like Arizona. In a joint statement last week, Gov. Doug Ducey and House Speaker Rusty Bowers said Afghans fleeing the Taliban would be “wholeheartedly welcomed” in the state.

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Phil Latzman is an award-winning digital journalist and broadcast professional with over 25 years of experience covering news and sports on a multitude of platforms.