Afghan diaspora spotlights crisis through Cleveland rally

Members of Cleveland’s Afghan community rallied on Saturday, August 21st to call attention to the current crisis in Afghanistan. The march drew several hundred people from the Afghan diaspora community, who chanted “Afghan Lives Matter” and “Peace for Afghanistan” as they marched from Garrett Morgan High School in the Detroit Shoreway to the Charles B. Stokes Federal Court House Building downtown.

“What happened in Afghanistan during the past few days… is heart wrenching,” the group wrote in a statement released after the protest. “We are all deeply depressed by the dreadful events that took place on August 15 [when the Taliban entered the capitol city Kabul]. Now that the Taliban have captured the capital Kabul, there comes responsibilities…to prevent this from turning into a disaster that will have long lasting impacts and consequences.”

Much of the group’s messaging was aimed at holding the Taliban accountable. In speeches and in writing, they called on the Taliban to respect the Universal Human Rights.

“We call upon the Taliban to avoid oppression, atrocity, discrimination, and violence,” the group wrote.

The march drew young and old, with children and teenagers often taking the microphone to advocate for their peers in Afghanistan.

“We want the children to be able to go to school,” shouted one teenage boy. “The Taliban won’t let girls attend school past the age of eight. This isn’t fair!”

For many of the young women in attendance, the fate of their fellow women weighed heavily on their minds.

“I am here because I want the American people to know how people are living back in Afghanistan,” said Siwita Ali Shah, who studies criminal justice at Cleveland State University (CSU). “I want to one day be able to go back to a home country that is free. But right now, the Taliban wants [women] to cover their faces and to wear black. They want to make it as though we don’t exist.”

Her sister, Benafsha Ali Shah, echoed Siwita’s frustration.

“There are women who have worked hard for 20 years in Afghanistan,” explained Benafsha, who is studying accounting at CSU. “There are women who got their bachelor’s degrees. Women became engineers. Women became doctors. And now- that’s all being erased. I don’t want to see Afghanistan go backwards.”

“I hope that the US government refuses to recognize the Taliban as an official government,” added Siwita.

In closing remarks, the group asked the international community to help assure stability in the country—through sanctions of Taliban-sponsoring governments and through humanitarian assistance.

“We call upon the international community to put pressure on the Taliban to make sure they adhere to the international laws and respect the will of the people of Afghanistan,” the group wrote. “We request the international humanitarian assistance groups continue supporting Afghanistan and prevent [a] humanitarian crisis…and we request the United States, the United Nations and the regional allies of Afghanistan to play a constructive role in re-stabilizing Afghanistan.”

The group also started an online fundraiser to support family members who are still stranded in Afghanistan.

Read more articles by Sydney Kornegay.

Sydney Kornegay is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Aidemocracy, The Columbia Star, and Observatario Economico. She has a master's degree in International Development and Economics from Fordham University and is the director of adult programming at Refugee Response in Cleveland.