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Afghan refugee panel discussion to spotlight escape, life in Afghanistan

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Afghan refugees are sharing their stories of escape in a two-part panel discussion organized by the Indiana Council on World Affairs.

But it’s about more than just their stories; it’s also about their hopes for the future.

Representatives say they knew they wanted to hold a discussion when the news of American withdraw from Afghanistan came out, never expecting the end of a 20-year war would bring about the largest refugee evacuation in history. And representatives say although some may feel this won’t impact them, it will.

For 20 years, Americans fought to create a democracy in Afghanistan. In a matter of days, that work ended when the Taliban took control.

“I knew that was the end and the government would collapse,” ICWA board member Kenneth Holland said of the decision to withdraw troops.

Holland for a time served as president at the American University of Afghanistan. Sensing the tension, his family got out in October 2019.

“The security situation was rapidly deteriorating. And we were told that the Taliban were trying to kidnap my wife and me. And they had kidnapped two other professors. So we thought it was time for us to leave,” he said.

Holland will be moderating the ICWA’s first panel discussion with Afghan refugees, who just months ago were holding down careers in their home country.

“To the average Hoosier, they may say, ‘well, what does this have to do with my daily life?’” panel organizer Betty Tonsing said. “But to people who are working, I think, and the industrial pulse of Indiana, and making this forward decisions, this impacts us greatly.”

Tonsing says from the time it was first reported learned troops would be pulled out, she started wondering what happens next. She says having this panel and hearing direct stories of life in Afghanistan and escape may inspire someone.

“They are not just refugees with the clothing on their back,” she said. “These are people that are coming with a skill set. They are going to be entering into our workforce, entering into our school system. They are going to be our neighbors. We’re going to need to have an understanding of what their lives were like.”

The first panel is virtual and starts at 7 p.m Thursday. The second one is Nov. 4th.