Masuma Sayed, 43, of Portland took this selfie in May in Kandahar, Afghanistan, with two nieces. It was her first trip back to Afghanistan in 28 years, because she finally felt strong enough after experiencing the trauma of the Taliban killing her mother, a sister and a brother. Photo courtesy of Masuma Sayed

Gov. Janet Mills has informed President Biden that Maine is prepared to take in Afghans who are being evacuated from their home country after a swift and chaotic takeover by the Taliban.

It’s a welcome gesture for Afghan Americans in Maine who are struggling to help loved ones flee the South Asian country by an Aug. 31 deadline initially set by the Biden administration and now being enforced by the Taliban.

Masuma Sayed, 43, of Portland, was elated to learn Tuesday that Mills had reached out to the president, possibly increasing the chances that several family members in Kandahar may be able to come to Maine.

Sayed participated in a public demonstration Friday in Portland’s Monument Square, where about 50 Afghan Americans gathered to call attention to the crisis in Afghanistan. When Sayed spoke during the protest, she urged Mills to offer safe passage to those now seeking refuge in the United States.

“That would be a dream come true for me,” Sayed said Tuesday. “I’ve been crying today so much. So many of my family have done so much for the U.S. and they are in danger now.”

Mills’ office notified the White House on Monday of her willingness to bring Afghans to Maine. The Biden administration did not indicate whether any Afghan refugees may come to Maine, a governor’s spokesperson said Tuesday. There was no information availableabout how many refugees Maine might be able to accommodate.

“Maine is prepared to provide safety and opportunity to Afghan refugees who protected American service members and American interests in Afghanistan,” said Lindsay Crete, Mills’ press secretary.

“Doing so honors our country’s commitment to stand with those who stood by us,” Crete continued. “It also strengthens and diversifies our state by welcoming people who want to put down roots, raise families, work and start businesses here.”

Crete noted that many governors, both Republicans and Democrats, have said their states are prepared to resettle Afghan refugees who have risked their own safety to help U.S. forces.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts, who has been critical of the Afghanistan withdrawal, said his state “is ready to assist the Afghan refugees seeking safety and peace in America.” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said her state “is ready to welcome our refugee sisters and brothers from Afghanistan.”

U.S. forces are removing thousands of Afghan citizens who helped the United States and its allies during the past two decades of fighting the Taliban, which had provided a safe haven for terrorists such as those who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

The evacuation has been both urgent and chaotic because the Taliban has said it will enforce the Aug. 31 deadline for Americans and U.S. allies to leave safely.

As of Monday, the United States had overseen the removal of 48,000 people and tens of thousands more are trying flee. Afghans who helped the U.S. military fear retaliation by the Taliban after U.S. forces pull out completely.

Sayed said her family members have destroyed paperwork that might incriminate them with the Taliban, but they have emailed proof to her that they worked with U.S. forces as contractors and interpreters. Sayed has contacted immigration lawyers and refugee resettlement officials in Portland, but she’s running out of hope.

“I don’t think I can get (my family members) out by the deadline,” Sayed said. “Kandahar is only two hours from Kabul, but the only hope now is if they can make it to Pakistan.”

The State Department has approved 345,000 special immigrant visas for Afghans who assisted the U.S. military over two decades, according to the Washington Post. More than 20,000 applications for special visas were still waiting for approval as the Taliban neared Kabul.

Although it is too soon to know whether any Afghan refugees will come to Maine, Catholic Charities of Maine would be the resettlement agency responsible for housing, medical and employment services if they do, according to its website. The agency had no further details Tuesday.

People receiving special immigrant visas are largely being resettled in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington, but some families may choose to migrate to Maine after initial resettlement, according to Catholic Charities of Maine.

The Afghan community in Maine numbers 50 to 70 families, or about 500 people in all, some of whom came here after helping U.S.-led forces oust the Taliban from power in 2001.

Sayed, who is married and has three children, returned to Kandahar in May for the first time since she came to the United States 28 years ago. She said she finally felt strong enough after experiencing the trauma of the Taliban killing her mother, a sister and a brother when she was a teenager.

Then a brother-in-law and his brother were killed in June, and the Taliban seized control of Kabul, the capital, on Aug. 15.

“These things brought back all the trauma I went through,” Sayed said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I would give up my life to bring my family here. I’m hoping for a miracle.”

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