The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Center for Peacemaking hosts Afghan Refugee families

“It was difficult leaving my dreams of establishing the first nonviolence institute there; however, I am determined to go back there and run the institute,” Basir Bita, graduate student at Marquette’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling masters program, said in an email.

Marquette University’s Center for Peacemaking director, Pat Kennelly knew that as the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the Center for Peacemaking felt an obligation to help as Kennelly calls them, the center’s partners overseas.

One refugee family, the Bita family, became part of the Marquette community, Basir Bita’s daughter, Mahdia, will go to Mount Mary University and his son, Barbod, will attend the Notre Dame School of Milwaukee.

“The Bita family was selected because … the Americans only evacuated folks who had been connected to the military, and being a center for nonviolence, we had only worked with partners who were pursuing nonviolent tactics of peacemaking, so none of our partners were eligible to be evacuated despite some risk of having worked with foreigners and in particular, Americans,” Kennelly said.

Prior to the Bita’s evacuation, Kennelly said a small group from the United States who had been working in Afghanistan came together to help refugees escape from the country. Kennelly said they had a list of about 90 families that needed to be evacuated.

Kennelly said some families left the country on flights, like the Bita family, others left on land through bus convoys and some families weren’t able to escape.

“In terms of the Bita’s, one of the things we knew is … if one student was enrolled in a United States university, all of their dependents could come too,” Kennelly said.

In late August or September, Kennelly called Rana Altenburg, associate vice president for public affairs, to tell her about this opportunity and a donation that came in to cover tuition and asked if they could make this happen. Kennelly said Marquette eventually ended up opening their doors by helping prepare their home in Milwaukee, cover tuition, helping with visas and more.

Currently, the Bita family is stuck in Canada waiting for their United States visa where Basir Bita said they are still trying to settle in.

“Life in Canada is chilly and nice. My daughter started her college online,” Basir Bita said in an email. “My wife goes to community college to improve her English and my son goes to school.”

Despite Basir Bita saying life is going generally well, he said his family still experiences unconscious flashbacks and nightmares.

The journey from Afghanistan to Canada wasn’t easy, Bita said. Although the Bita family had their Canadian visas approved, Bita said they could not get out after the Taliban’s takeover.

Bita said they traveled by land to another Afghan city and after a week, they flew to Pakistan where they had to wait for 47 days until the Canadian government issued an updated visa, booked flights and waited to connect with the the International Organization for Migration- who Bita said were in charge of onboarding Afghans.

This isn’t the only time Bita has coordinated with Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking though.

Bita said his contact with the Center dates back more than a decade ago when Kennelly visited Afghanistan.

Since Kennelly’s visit, Bita has attended virtual workshops from the Center discussing peace activism and has helped with translation whenever Kennelly and his colleagues visited.

In Afghanistan, Bita works and advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, democracy, nonviolence, peace and more. Prior to leaving, he was working to create the first nonviolence institute in Afghanistan.

After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Bita was targeted by them and received death threats. His car was shot at as his family was returning home one night. Bita said this is all due to his activism.

Bita said he wants to help more refugees still stuck in Afghanistan. He said there are many of his friends, brothers, his parents and other relatives who cannot get out of the country.

“I am more concerned about the LGBTQ+ community in Afghanistan as they are being oppressed under the Taliban regime,” Bita said in an email.

Helping this family come to Marquette and escape Afghanistan, Altenburg said, is a great example of how several different people quickly came together to help make something momentous happen.

Altenburg said her role in this process was behind the scenes since she normally collaborates with Kennelly on more local issues.

“However, we talked through how to best approach Marquette’s leadership and key decision makers, and Pat [Kennelly] skillfully took it from there,” Altenburg said in an email.

Now, Altenburg said the public affairs office has been helping to connect people with those who work in Wisconsin’s congressional delegations office for visas.

Kennelly said they’re hoping that the Bita family will arrive at Marquette by next semester.

Kennelly also said that Marquette is lucky they have the Center for Peacemaking, which really emphasizes applied peacemaking and nonviolence.

“It really is what a Marquette education is about when you think about ‘Be the Difference’ or living lives of faith, service, excellence and leadership,” Kennelly said. “Projects like this are just applying a peacemaking lens about how can we use our talents and our resources to make the world a little bit easier for other people to live — it’s almost intuitive.”

This story was written by Julia Abuzzahab. She can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Julia Abuzzahab, Executive Projects Editor
Julia Abuzzahab is a senior from Wausau, Wisconsin studying journalism and film and media studies and is the Executive Projects Editor of the Marquette Wire for the 2023-2024 school year. Prior to this position, she served as the Executive News Editor for the organization. Outside of the Wire, she enjoys playing piano and seeing her friends. She is most excited to see all of the work her and her team accomplish this year and spending time with her friends in the newsroom.  

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