Afghan refugees arrive in Philadelphia, supporters rally and advocate for those who remain


As a desperate US rescue mission in Afghanistan rushes to a chaotic end, more than 200 evacuees arrived at Philadelphia International Airport on Saturday, the second airport designated by the White House to accommodate those fleeing. the violence that ravaged their country.

The first of what city officials expect will be that hundreds of Afghan evacuees will arrive in Philadelphia before dawn in the next few days, with more expected in the evening.

Once they got off the plane and cleared customs, they were greeted by an interpreter and led through the baggage claim terminal A-East and a processing area dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge-PHL”, where food was collected. , hygiene products, medical assessment, COVID-19 are suitable for cultivation. tests and vaccinations, as well as other forms of support, including stuffed animals for children, have been offered, a city spokesperson said. Religious observation space is also available.

Several buses were waiting for them, including some from West Chester-based Krapf Transportation, whose digital signs read “God Bless America.” Many of the new arrivals were heading to McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Joint Base in Wrightstown, with some scheduled to stop in Camden for processing, checking and respite.

As the evacuees were processed at the airport, around 100 people gathered under an overcast sky Saturday morning in the city center for an emotional rally and march to support them and those still in Afghanistan.

“The world is watching right now,” said Michelle Li, 24, of Philadelphia. “We have a responsibility. “

The mission to evacuate U.S. citizens, Afghans who assisted NATO forces, government officials and others who may be at risk faces a deadline set by the Biden administration as the conditions in Kabul are becoming increasingly desperate.

After Thursday’s suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed 13 Americans and dozens of Afghans, authorities said on Saturday that US forces carried out a drone strike on Friday against what they said was a ISIS-K planner in eastern Afghanistan amid warnings of possible new terrorist attacks targeting the US evacuation. France and Italy have concluded their airlifts, and CNN reported that the last British military flight dedicated to civilian evacuees had left Kabul airport.

At the rally in Philadelphia’s Dilworth Plaza which culminated with a walk on the boardwalk to the art museum, there were tears, prayers and emotional calls for the United States to extend their date. withdrawal limit and get as many people out as possible.

“We owe it to them. It’s the right thing to do, “said Brian Doyle, 24, of Cherry Hill, a sophomore at Rutgers-Camden Law School, who held up a sign saying,” Asylum is a right of the man.

The rally was organized by AOPxSola, which represents the Afghan community in Philadelphia. He said he wanted to show solidarity and demand that the United States continue with evacuations and lift restrictions on quotas and visas.

The crowd included families who brought their young children and Afghan women who expressed concern for the women left behind. Some waved the Afghan flag and carried signs that read: “I speak for those who cannot” or “Do not break your promise”.

Aimal Safi, 10, of Philadelphia, said he came to the rally “to save Afghan lives”. His family came from Kabul about five years ago. They hope that a brother and sister-in-law can run away, he said.

“I am here to defend Afghanistan,” said Aimal, a fifth grader.

Mobina Noory was holding a sign expressing her feelings: “Afghan Lives Matter”. Noory, 28, a medical assistant from Bensalem, left Afghanistan when she was 10, but her extended family remains there and she believes they could be targeted by the Taliban.

“They’re probably going to kill them all,” Noory said.

City Councilor Helen Gym, daughter of immigrants, stirred the crowd with a reading of Emma Lazare’s sonnet inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your tight masses yearning to breathe freely, The miserable waste of your teeming shore.

“It’s about humanity,” Gym said. “It’s about our country.”

Mursal Ghafary, 14, from Bensalem, said she was worried about her 23-year-old sister-in-law who was trying to leave Afghanistan. She said she saw in horror as desperate children die falling from American planes taking off from Kabul airport.

“I’m scared for my family there,” Ghafary said. “I want people to know this is happening. “

With anger and tears, Khatira Nasiri of Philadelphia, who came from Kabul to the United States in 2002, read a poem in her native dialect about the plight of Afghan women. A registered nurse at Jefferson University Hospital, she said the women in the family at home were unable to go to school or go out without blankets.

“They can’t do anything,” Nasiri said. “It’s just heartbreaking what’s going on.”

Nasiri translated the last line of his verse: “You have ruined my country! You ruined my country! You ruined my country!

After the speeches, the crowd, escorted by police, marched through the streets past LOVE Park towards the art museum. They clenched their fists and chanted “Free and Free Afghanistan” and “Say it loud, say it clearly, refugees are welcome here”. Tourists watched and motorists honked their horns.

As a steady rain fell, they lined up on the steps of the museum for further speeches. A young girl held up a handwritten sign of a child with a purple heart that simply read, “Pray for the Afghans.

Fatima Hussaine, 22, of Philadelphia, nodded and placed her hand over her heart as the Afghan national anthem was played through a loudspeaker. She arrived in the United States five years ago with two sisters.

“It’s very sad,” said her sister Zahara Hussaine, 23.

Editor Diane Mastrull and photographer Elizabeth Robertson contributed to this article.

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