Thousands of Afghan refugees could be headed to Queens


NEW YORK — Thousands of refugees and immigrants from Afghanistan could arrive in Queens in the coming weeks after the collapse of the government as U.S. troops withdraw from the country.

U.S. military forces secured the airport in Kabul this week and began a massive evacuation effort, even as the Taliban began to formally assert its authority over the entire country.

Many in the Queens communities of Flushing and Fresh Meadows, including Sunita Viswanath, know people scrambling to get out of Afghanistan.

“This is the time the world needs to stand with Afghanistan and not abandon Afghanistan,” said Viswanath, the co-founder of Women for Afghan Women.

The organization is the largest Afghan women’s rights group in the world — founded in Queens nearly 20 years ago when the war began.

WAW has been on the ground in Afghanistan running child care centers and helping out women who have suffered human rights violations.

“We have been running a women’s rights organization, so we are at particular danger because we’ve been doing this work, so our hope and prayers we can get people,” Viswanath said.

The group’s immediate goal is to get about 500 staff, women and children out of the country by working with the U.S. government, American allies and private operators.

However, they say just getting to the airport in Kabul is risky not just because of the Taliban, but also because of roving gangs.

U.S. military commanders insist the security situation is improving, to an extent, after the initial mad scramble to leave. Thousands of U.S. troops have secured Hamid Karzai Airport and are ramping up airlift efforts, which will move out 5,000 to 8,000 passengers per day.

Viswanath anticipates many Afghans will look for ways to flee the country, with many ending up in Queens and in other Afghan communities across the country.

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