As EB-5 investment immigration attorneys, we strive to maintain a moral responsibility to those of undeserving circumstance. Although our principal focus is business and investment-based immigration matters, maintaining an awareness of global affairs is essential. Yet it is not always articles relating to billion-dollar mergers that attract our attention, as there are stories we believe have a necessity to be told on a wider scale. Too often it is the voices of the voiceless that get drowned out by more popular news bulletins, and we believe that it is of great significance that these stories be shared. One such vantage point we’ve discovered and wished to share with those in immigration law has been a recently released documentary called Afghanistan Undercover.
Directed by award-winning Karim Shah for the BAFTA, Emmy, and Peabody award-winning Exposure series on ITV, the documentary peers into the current state of affairs for the people of Afghanistan, led by the bravery of Robert F. Kennedy Award winning journalist Ramita Navai as she investigates how the Taliban have assumed complete control over its populace, most notably its women. Their team has risked their lives to expose this grave tragedy of human circumstance in a country which has been seemingly cast aside by the rest of the world.
It feels as though the media has been largely silent on the affairs of Afghanistan over much of the past year. The Taliban is in complete control of the country, with many of its denizens in a state of constant fear and anxiety, especially the nation’s women. With education, media, and even their social existence heavily restricted, the country has become one that is barely survivable for its women, with nearly every one of their civil and human rights vastly diminished. Navai and Shah, undaunted by these horrid conditions, ventured out with a small crew to report on the realities endured there, which in any democratic nation would be dramatically penalized as crimes against humanity.
“What kind of government is this?” is a question asked and unanswered by many. The horrific conditions depicted in Shah and Navai’s work are an ongoing reality for the millions caught in the Taliban’s totalitarian regime. It is critical for documentaries like these to uncover the truths of life around the globe, particularly when repressive governments have gone to such lengths to silence the voices of those who speak out. While the future of women’s lives in Afghanistan remains uncertain, sharing their stories is a small but powerful step in the right direction.
Navai and her Exposure team follow several women as they navigate life around Kabul and other outlying regions of the country, where there is little hope for escape. The documentary begins with Navai investigating the disappearance of “Mariam,” a young woman who was captured by Afghani police forces and not been heard from or seen for months. Mariam, like many women in Afghanistan, was arrested for “immoral behavior” – a vague and arbitrary yet unfortunately common “crime” with no set punishment or sentence, with many of the charged never seeing trial.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me. Everything has been ruined. I don’t see much hope or opportunity.” – Unidentified Girl in Afghanistan
After Mariam’s friends were arrested for riding in a taxi without a man, Mariam found herself also incarcerated after she went to the police station to try and help them. Taliban Intelligence Agents tazed her, took her phone, and locked her away. Mariam’s family were left without answers or knowledge of her whereabouts, while Taliban authorities denied she was imprisoned. Navai and her team managed to locate Mariam in Harat Central Prison. By sneaking a hidden camera and microphone into the jail, Navai exposed video footage of groups of women – all arrested for ill-defined crimes and spending months incarcerated with no clue as to when, if ever, they’d see trial.
Mariam asserted that the guards “don’t let us talk” and would deliver “big punches” if she was caught speaking to a journalist. Wisely, Mariam spoke these words in English, and while under the watchful gaze of a guard, asserted in Arabic: “They treat us really well and thank God everything is great and our brothers the Taliban are good.” While the Taliban paint a picture for the world of a government which respects women’s rights, the plight of Mariam and the countless other missing female prisoners tells a far different tale. While Mariam would eventually be reunited with her family, this is sadly an extremely rare story of hope.
“All our hopes are pinned on reaching America,” is a common sentiment spoken by families connected to these safehouses. But the path to America, via refugee processing, Special Immigrant Visas or other traditional visa sponsorship options, isn’t clear for most families. And the type of immigration law our firm usually practices, EB-5 investor visas, isn’t realistic because of the substantial amounts of required investment capital. Other countries have similar “Citizenship by Investment” (CBI) programs that are willing to take in Afghani nationals with significant capital and provide an option to leave Afghanistan. Some have been lucky enough to take this investment route, as countries such as Turkey have seen a marked interest in their CBI programs, though this is, again, an option only available to very few, and even those who leave almost always must leave some family members behind to accommodate regulation.
Relief efforts have been stymied by the Taliban, as many organizations that were previously assisting the populace have been forced to leave following the exit of international military forces. Many Afghanis have made desperate attempts to leave the country, with some refugee camps in neighboring countries saturated with Afghani nationals facing uncertain futures because they have little or no formal immigration authorization, and thus live in constant fear of a forced to return to Afghanistan. Refugee efforts have seen similar setbacks, and there appears to be no clear or satisfactory end to the obstacles that so many Afghani women face, short of some sincere international intervention. While documentarian efforts like Navai and Shah’s teams have braved extremely difficult conditions to capture these struggles and share them with the world, the world must in turn respond with practical measures to truly help the people of Afghanistan.
Navai’s brave investigation is a stark reminder that freedom is not a guaranteed right in this world. Any protests made in the streets urging for simple human rights like education for women are swiftly shut down by the Taliban within minutes. The Taliban’s network of spies is vast and capable of knowing what any social justice group is up to immediately, forcing most to operate in extreme secrecy. “Not only are we threatened by the Taliban, but by our families too. Our brothers have a problem with us, our fathers have a problem with us, society has a problem with us, but we’ve still worked hard for social justice,” spoken by a member of one such group, the one of few who were brave enough to show their face in this stark documentary.
‘Afghanistan Undercover‘ is now available from PBS Frontline. It is also available to stream here: ‘Afghanistan Undercover‘ (Ramita Navai)
Watch the documentary and then take action – whether that is advocating for the Afghan Adjustment Act in Congress, or donating time or resources to a relief agency. Together we must ensure the stories continue to be told, and that light continues to be brought into darkness.
If you are seeking more information about efforts to help Afghan nationals, both here in the U.S. and abroad, links are provided below:
Find Resources for Assisting Afghan Clients
Take Action and tell Congress the Afghan Adjustment Act is essential!
Bill Summary: The Afghan Adjustment Act – National Immigration Forum
AILA – Bill Text and Section-by-Section: Afghan Adjustment Act