Afghans at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021, hoping to flee as the Taliban retake the country. (Photo/JTA-AFP via Getty Images) INSET: Yasamin Taher, Afghan case manager at JFCS East Bay.
Afghans at the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021, hoping to flee as the Taliban retake the country. (Photo/JTA-AFP via Getty Images) INSET: Yasamin Taher, Afghan case manager at JFCS East Bay.

Q&A: Insider view from an Afghan employee at JFCS — and how you can help

Afghan refugees are coming to the Bay Area and you can help, says Yasamin Taher, a case manager with Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay.

JFCS , originally founded as Daughters of Israel Relief Society, has been resettling refugees in the Bay Area since the 1930s, including hundreds of Afghan families since the U.S. became involved in Afghanistan 20 years ago.

Now, with the Taliban retaking the country and conditions deteriorating, the urgency of JFCS’ work has never been greater, Taher told J. Tuesday.

Taher came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as a refugee 30 years ago and has worked as a case manager at JFCS for seven years.


How did you end up in the Bay Area?

Yasamin Taher: We escaped in 1987 when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Life was hard. So we left and came to Pakistan, which was the only country we could get to. I came with my entire family — my brothers, one of my brother’s children and wife, and my mother. We had no money when we came to Pakistan. I was educated back home, I was a teacher. Men had no chance to work in Pakistan, but I started working for the United Nations as a field officer in refugee camps. In 1991, my sister who was in the U.S. already sponsored us and we came here as refugees that year.

What are you hearing from people in Afghanistan right now?

We are so disappointed. I have family still there — my niece and her husband with their children, teenage girls and boys. They were in Jalalabad, but left for Kabul the day before the Taliban invaded. The girls were supposed to have their final exams the next day, but they weren’t able to do them because they were too scared to go out. They have heard stories about 20 years ago when women had bad experiences under the Taliban. The kids are so scared. They say they don’t have any hope. They don’t know what to do.

How many Afghan families has JFCS resettled here in the past?

A lot. I couldn’t count it. These days we resettle maybe 130 every year, but this year we have more than that. Every day we are expecting four or five cases — most of them are families of three or five or six people. All of them were involved in working for the U.S. Army as translators or working on Army bases. If I had to guess, more than 20 in the coming weeks. We have four or five coming this week. We don’t know exactly when, but we’re looking forward to welcoming them. They have their visas, but flights have been canceled. But they will be here soon.

How can people in the Bay Area help?

They can help our agency right now. We are looking for donations of everything, like household items. And especially housing. Housing is a big issue. We can rent Airbnb for a family for a while until we find housing, but it’s expensive and hard to find. For singles and small families, we are looking for people who have an in-law unit or a couple of rooms in their home they can give over for two or three months while [the refugees] find jobs and get on their feet. What they get from social services is not enough to pay their rent, especially with housing costs the way it is in the Bay Area.

Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay is seeking donations and housing offers. To help, contact Ami Dodson at [email protected] or (925) 927-2000 ext. 530, or go to jfcs-eastbay.org

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the digital editor of J. He can be reached at [email protected].