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UArizona faculty helping Afghanistan evacuation effort

Several families linked to the university still trapped in the chaos
Students sit in a Kabul classroom as part of a University of Arizona cultural program.
Posted at 10:21 AM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 13:35:52-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — University of Arizona staff members are working to help people escape the deteriorating crisis in Afghanistan.

The faculty is aware of about a dozen families still in the country that have ties to the university. Many of those still trapped are researchers, artists and other colleagues that work with the UArizona on cultural programs.

“Worked very hard with us on important projects, we’ve appreciated all of that work,” said Anne Betteridge, Director at the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. “And if we can do anything to support them and help them continue it, that would mean a lot to us.”

Staff members are using every avenue they can to try to get these people to safety.

“We’re working with the State Department. We’re working with the military. We’re working with the [Biden] administration,” said Julia Smith, Assistant Vice President of Federal Relations for the UArizona.

The bulk of that work is filing visa applications and support letters to get the families approved to leave Afghanistan.

“Just trying to give hope to some people that I worked with that did wonderful things for us,” said Julie Ellison-Speight, Associate Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies.

Ellison-Speight has spent countless hours over the past two weeks collecting the families’ information for applications. She is also staying in touch with them so they can be ready to evacuate if a safe way out becomes available.

“This was just a mass amount of correspondence,” she said.

Staff with the school's ROTC, veteran center and other departments have also volunteered time and resources to bring the families to safety.

Even as the situation grows more dangerous, these UArizona colleagues are rallying together and giving each other hope.

Ellison-Speight says she is inspired by “the amazing level of kindness on this campus and the empathy for what the people in Afghanistan are going through.”

Smith says her team is staying positive through the uncertainty.

“The message from our team to [the families] has consistently been: ‘We’re with you. We’re not giving up,’” she said.

“And regardless of what’s happening on the ground, this isn’t over until they’re safe.”