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Four Afghan women journal about life after U.S. departure as BYU launches new Global Refugee Archive

‘I am not ok. But I try to be good and strong,’ 14-year-old girl writes as a featured part of the new archive compiled by Their Story Is Our Story

A teenaged girl is sharing her experience of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan via the new Global Refugee Archive.
A teenaged girl is sharing her experience of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan as part of the new Global Refugee Archive hosted by BYU’s library and created by Their Story Is Our Story.
Global Refugee Archive

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Six years ago, a Latter-day Saint attorney named Kristen Smith Dayley volunteered to help an Afghan woman who had fled to the United States and applied for political asylum. The woman’s husband was still in Turkey, where he fled after he was beaten and left for dead in Kabul.

The woman called Dayley every month with the same question: “When can we get him here?”

“It’s been nearly seven years now,” Dayley said recently. “The wife filed for asylum in 2015 and still no hearing has been scheduled. I’m still in contact with the family, but I don’t get those calls anymore.”

Stories like that are more powerful than facts and figures, said Dayley, executive director of Their Story Is Our Story.

The organization recently launched the Global Refugee Archive, a database of refugee stories now available to the public on the Scholars Archive website of Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library.

The organization currently is featuring a special project. Four Afghan women and girls are sharing their journal entries this fall as they experience the Taliban’s takeover of their country after the departure of the U.S. military.

“The day the Taliban came, I cried a lot,” a 14-year-old ninth grader wrote on Sept. 1. “It’s been almost three weeks since they arrived, and I haven’t been out once because I’m so scared of them. I do not think I can go to school, to courses, or become a doctor anymore. Freedom is like a dream for me.”

The girl’s 19-year-old sister managed to flee last month to Russia, where she is continuing her education and worrying for her mother and sisters back home.

Liz Jevtic-Somlai shares stories about the vulnerability and resilience of women refugees like herself.
Liz Jevtic-Somlai holds her son as she talks about the vulnerability and resilience of women refugees like herself at the launch of the Global Refugee Archive at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library on Oct. 21, 2021.
Tad Walch, Deseret News

“I am worried about my family because my father still does not know,” the older sister wrote. “Last week, he threatened to take my sister ... and hand over my mother to the Taliban (if I leave). I do not know where he got the news that I wanted to go.”

The Global Refugee Archive is crucial to helping people comprehend national and international crises on an individual level, said Robin Peterson, director of archives at Their Story Is Our Story.

“I take it very seriously, preserving someone’s story,” Peterson said. “We take it very, very seriously that these individuals have fled trauma or dangerous situations that still could cause them trauma or danger.”

Their Story Is Our Story protects refugees by getting their consent for what can and can’t be shared, often using aliases or blurring or obscuring faces in photos or videos.

The Global Refugee Archive now includes more than 50 interviews, a gallery of photographs, a gallery of artwork done by volunteer artists and an archive of some social media posts.

Volunteers with Their Story Is Our Story record the refugee journey of an Iraqi refugee who now is married to an American and lives in Utah with two children.
Volunteers with Their Story Is Our Story record the refugee journey of Rita, a native of Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. Rita married an American and lives in Utah with two children.
Global Refugee Archive

The BYU library is offering unlimited database space, and Their Story Is Our Story is in talks to add other stories from new partners around the world, such as humanitarian organizations and other groups that work with refugees.

“We’re very happy that the BYU library has been able to collaborate with TSOS and provide a digital home for the archive in our institutional repository,” said Ellen Amatangelo, the library’s scholarly communications coordinator.

The archive builds on Their Story Is Our Story’s previous effort to share its collection of stories, a powerful 2018 book, “Let Me Tell You My Story.”

“I don’t have any way to guarantee a happy outcome for any of the people that I work with,” Dayley said, “but I figure I can stand with them, and I can make sure they’re alone.”

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One TSOS founder helped me tell a powerful refugee story last year, about a teenage Syrian girl named Hind and her family’s harrowing on-foot flight from Syria after bombs fell on their neighborhood. The journey forced a family of nonswimmers into a frightfully choppy Aegean Sea in a rubber boat packed with 70 other people.

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