Afghan refugee’s plan to attend Catholic school in Arkansas halted


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Shadab, 18, was ready to leave Afghanistan to travel nearly 7,500 miles to begin his final year of high school at the Subiaco Academy – a Benedictine high school that is both a day school and a boarding school – just before the Takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The student knows six languages ​​and had high hopes of studying at an American college next year.

The college prep environment and stimulating curriculum at Subiaco Boys’ School attracted him after a simple internet search of American schools. He knew that was where he wanted to study; he applied and was accepted.

But in a month, his whole world has changed.

“We have no future,” Shadab said bluntly, with a hint of desperation in his voice during a phone call from Pakistan to Arkansas Catholic, the diocesan newspaper in Little Rock, on Aug. 31.

Shadab, who preferred to use only his first name, was denied his student visa for a second time on August 26.

“I have no future, my younger sister has no future because I can no longer go to school. As an immigrant in Pakistan, I do not have the right to do my school in Pakistan, ”he said. “My visa was refused, I cannot go back to Afghanistan because I also have American documents with me. I’m afraid now. I’m not afraid anymore.”

Shadab’s fate is familiar to countless young people after the Taliban overtook Afghanistan on August 15, entering the capital of Kabul as President Ashraf Ghani fled. The United States withdrew its last troops on August 30, after 20 years.

Shadab was born in the Afghan province of Ghazni as a Hazara Muslim. Representing only 9 percent of the population, the Hazaras are one of the religious minorities most persecuted by the Taliban, according to Amnesty International.

The family moved to Kabul when he was 7 years old.

“This move was also due to the Taliban, because we did not have access to primary rights, such as having a good school with high quality education,” he said.

Shadab explained that for most Afghan children there were “no typical nights and days” for his family. There was no family vacation, as traveling carried its own risk of being killed by extremists.

Her uncle and grandfather were murdered by the Taliban in Ghazni. He declined to go into the details of what happened.

“We’re from Afghanistan, we have the right to go to any city we want, like for a picnic or something like that, but we couldn’t do that because we were killed.” , Shadab said. “There are so many examples of Hazara people being killed on the roads. We do not have access to our fundamental rights as human beings.

Although he lives in a country with few opportunities, Shadab felt more secure in Kabul and had hope for his future.

He had spoken with the principal and some of the teachers in Subiaco and said they were encouraging and motivating. He planned to study business administration at university and chose the Subiaco Academy because of his business and economics courses.

Marion Dunagan, deputy director of enrollment management at Subiaco Academy, said Shadab was “the kind of kid Subiaco really wants.”

“Academically, he is exceptional,” she said. “We’re looking for students who are already well-rounded – he ticks all the boxes to be a terrific student academically, culturally, athletically; he has been ranked nationally as football player in Afghanistan. “

Shadab’s student visa was first refused on July 6 and then again on August 26. He traveled to Pakistan because the US Embassy in Afghanistan was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I traveled to Pakistan by land, crossed the border and saw them. I saw them with my own eyes,” he said of the Taliban soldiers. “It was dangerous; looking at their faces was dangerous. Everyone is afraid of dying.”

Despite all the papers, he was told he was refused because he did not have “strong ties to my country,” he said.

“I had all the acceptance documents, all the relevant information,” Shadab said. “I was shocked when my visa was refused because the Americans (were leaving) many, many, many people from Afghanistan without having a single document, from the airport. But I had all the documents.”

Dunagan contacted the office of Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) On several occasions regarding this situation and said his office was very gracious to contact the embassy prior to the student’s visa interview. She has not heard from after the second denial.

Boozman spokesman Matthew Wester said in a September 1 email that the office is working with the school to help with the prospective student’s visa application process. “This matter is ongoing and our office remains engaged in the search for a resolution,” he said.

Dunagan said she was terribly worried for Shadab and his family – her parents and younger sister.

For now, Shadab is staying in Islamabad with friends of his family. He does not reside in Pakistan and therefore cannot enroll in school. He cannot return to his family in Afghanistan for fear of retaliation from the Taliban. Currently, the borders are closed.

“I’m worried about them and disappointed with the situation. I just can’t express my feelings. It’s hard to see that your family is in pain, and I can’t do anything … For a student, that is. It’s too hard to handle these big responsibilities. It kills me every day to think about all of this, “Shadab said.” And given my situation in Pakistan right now, there is nothing I can do for them. So it’s heartbreaking for me, and it’s difficult. I’m just worried and praying and that’s it. “

With his own future in danger, Shadab worries the most for his 14-year-old sister.

“I saw the news. They say they will allow girls to study in universities and schools, but I’m not sure,” he said.

“The Taliban are the old Taliban. They haven’t changed. Their faces haven’t changed, their style hasn’t changed, their way of speaking hasn’t changed.

The Taliban did not allow women to drive, learn English or go to school.

“She’s still young and oh my god she’s so scared,” he said of his sister. “I know what she was hoping for in her future. I know that and all (the girls), suddenly it changed.”

“I was hoping for a better future in the United States. At the moment, there is no plan for me. I have lost my motivation,” he said with a sigh.

Shadab said the only thing he hopes the Arkansans will do is raise their voices for the Afghan people who cannot.

“They are losing their loved ones every day,” Shadab said. “We are afraid … They have to raise their voices and defend us against the Taliban. That’s all I want.”

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