(Updated at 9:35 a.m.) Hurunnessa Fariad knows what it’s like to be an Afghan refugee.
She fled Afghanistan with her family in the 1980s while the country was under Soviet occupation. While the circumstances were certainly different three decades ago, her emotions upon seeing another exodus in the wake of the Taliban’s recent takeover are comparable to her own experiences.
“The sentiment of leaving your home, leaving everything behind…and coming to a country where you don’t know anything, you don’t know the culture, you don’t know the people, you don’t know who’s going to help you — it’s terrifying,” she said.
Today, Fariad works as outreach coordinator at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society — also known as the ADAMS Center — in Sterling. It’s the second-largest Muslim community in the country and serves people across Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
She also serves as the center’s Afghan lead, working with Lutheran Social Services to help those who have evacuated Afghanistan to make a new home in the U.S., joining many non-profit and faith-based organizations across the region.
The ADAMS Center is currently collecting funds to help with both immediate needs, such as gift cards to Target or Walmart that can be used to purchase basic items, and long-term needs for housing, jobs, and education.
Fariad says the center was collecting individual items, like toiletries and hygiene items, but they got “inundated” and need time to sort through all of the donations.
“The funding is going to keep going on for a while because there’s so many people coming in that they’re going to need help,” she said.
Additionally, the ADAMS Center is putting together a list of local residents who speak Dari and Pashto and can act as translators. They are sharing that list with both Virgina Gov. Ralph Northam’s office and the federal government.
As of yesterday (Tuesday), more than 6,000 people and 44 dogs have arrived at Dulles International Airport in the last week, according to an email from state officials to local partners.
A Fairfax County spokesperson confirmed that the county is providing support for resettlement efforts, primarily assisting with health, human services, and public safety needs.
“Currently, the county is supporting a Department of State operation for people evacuated from Afghanistan and arriving at Dulles International Airport. Some of these individuals are being supported temporarily at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly,” the county spokesperson wrote. “The center has the capacity to support more than a thousand individuals.”
The Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management also helped set up cots at Northern Virginia Community College, according to The Washington Post. Community members are being asked not to go to any of these hosting sites.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay visited the Dulles Expo Center yesterday, saying in a newsletter that he was “touched to hear the human side of what we are seeing on the news.”
“While we can’t be sure how many people will ultimately relocate to Fairfax County, I want to be clear that we look forward to welcoming all who want to join our diverse community,” he wrote.
While the region isn’t the final destination for many of new arrivals, it will be for some. Fariad says she believes it will be “weeks at most” before many individuals and families will be in need of more permanent housing.
She has received calls, texts, and emails from people throughout the community, including those from churches and synagogues, offering to house families in their homes.
“To offer your house to a complete stranger, it takes guts,” Fariad said. “We really appreciate people putting themselves out there.”
Right now, the ADAMS Center is working with Lutheran Social Services on housing and remains in constant contact with local, state, and federal officials about what’s needed next.
For folks looking to help, Fariad suggests they get in a touch with a local organization.
“I would…definitely find an organization that’s helping [Afghan evacuees] directly and see which one of those volunteer services you can help with, whether it’s donations, money or in-person volunteering and getting the apartment ready,” she said.
Though she left Afghanistan when she was 2 and has lived in Northern Virginia since 2004, Fariad still has family in Kabul, and they have been asking her how they can apply to come to America, expressing fear for their lives. The women are being told not to go outside without a male escort.
She has passed along their information to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner’s office, but beyond that, there isn’t much more she can do.
“You feel helpless, absolutely helpless,” Fariad said. “Sometimes you feel like you have no words to express how you feel because you’re so numb you don’t know to feel anymore.”
When asked what advice she’d give people who want to help as well as show compassion and empathy, she says think as if it was happening to you.
“Imagine yourself in their shoes. Imagine the United States was going through the same thing. How would you want another country…react to you in terms of fleeing from war, fleeing from persecution, fleeing from violence and wanting a safe space?” Fariad said. “America has been known for [helping] and we have to keep that reputation going…because it’s them today, but tomorrow, it could be us.”
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