Afghan American goes through fear, tears, joy as family escapes Kabul


‘There are millions of people in Afghanistan, they are in the same situation as me,’ refugee tells Anadolu Agency

CHICAGO, United States (AA) – His first name is Raz, but to reveal any more, he said, would put his parents, brothers and sister at risk back home in Afghanistan.

“Their life is really high-risk. I’m really scared if someone will snitch on them to the Taliban and as soon the Taliban find out, they will kill them all,” he said.

Raz is a truck driver in the Midwest state of Wisconsin, but in a previous life, he was an interpreter for the US Marines. He got out in 2015 because he knew a takeover by the Taliban was inevitable.

“There are millions of people in Afghanistan. They are in the same situation as me. They don’t want to live under Taliban control.”

But on a hot August night at a truck stop in Rockford, Illinois, Raz has a huge smile of relief on his face, at least for the moment.

His wife and son, who had been trapped outside the Kabul airport for two nights, are now in Qatar and have just gotten approval to join Raz.

“I’m so excited for my son and my wife to be here. That will be so awesome.”

Raz made trips to Afghanistan to visit his childhood sweetheart, married her and the two welcomed a son in 2018. The plan was always to have them join Raz in the US and he was working with pro bono immigration lawyer Janice Beers of the Catholic Multicultural Center to make it happen.

“I just felt a calling to do that advocacy” for Raz, Beers told Anadolu Agency.

But the sudden fall of Kabul caught everyone off guard. Raz said his wife and son were blocked from entering the Kabul airport by Afghan security forces and the Taliban, and they had to join the throng of people waiting outside the airport for days.

“I was really scared, I was really shocked and I didn’t know how I should bring them here,” said Raz. “And I was crying. My whole body was shaking. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat.”

“It was shocking,” said Beers. She said in 30 years of working with immigrants and refugees, “I’ve never experienced a situation like this.”

Raz reached out to the Marines he had worked with — he calls them his “brothers” — and they, in turn, reached out to a veterans group working in Afghanistan called Team America. Somehow, someway, they managed to get Raz’s wife and son through the gates and on a plane to Qatar and then called him with the news.

“I got your son and wife,” Raz said they told him, “they are safe now.”

“I was so happy at that moment, and I said: ‘Oh, thank God.'”

For Beers, Raz’s story left her thinking of all those who did not make it out and America’s responsibility to help them.

She said she had gotten calls from Afghans in America who have relatives who have been beaten. And those who have relatives who were killed in a suicide bombing on Aug. 26 outside of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.

“To save one life,” she says, “is to save the world.”

A military welcome, social service help

Raz is not sure where or when his wife and son will arrive in America, but it might happen at Ft. McCoy — a rural, heavily wooded part of Wisconsin, a couple of hours from Raz’s home.

Roughly 25,000 refugees are now pouring into four US military bases, including Ft. McCoy. As soon as they arrive, they are getting coronavirus tests and being treated for any injuries. Temporary tents are being erected at Ft. McCoy to help house them.

And local social service agencies are ready to spring into action.

Dawn Berney, the executive director of Jewish Social Services of Madison, Wisconsin, said people might be “confused” by a Jewish organization being so quick to help resettle Muslim refugees but having done this work for decades, she said, people involved quickly get over that.

“People who are coming to the United States as refugees are coming here because it is not safe for them where they are coming from. It is our duty, in our case as Jews, to welcome the stranger.”

The top priorities will be getting refugees housing, food, scheduling doctors’ appointments, daycare needs and helping them search for a job. They will also get a monthly stipend lasting eight or nine months, depending on when they can get a job.

Conservative critics have grumbled about government money being used to help refugees.

Berney bristles at that.

“Refugees want to be self-sufficient as quickly as they possibly can. They want to be part of the community. They don’t want to be receiving handouts,” she said.

In fact, Berney said she often has to urge refugees not to spend their first week in the US looking for a job and focus on more pressing needs. But conservative critics are also aiming at the security vetting of incoming refugees.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin visited refugees at Ft. McCoy last week and told reporters that the new arrivals appeared “happy.”

But he blasted the Biden administration for the security vetting, saying the administration’s reassurance of proper vetting is like putting “lipstick on a pig,” a euphemism that means making superficial changes to cover up something’s inherent flaws.

Likewise, Wisconsin Republican congressman Tom Tiffany told Fox News that the Biden administration is “doubling down by bringing people who are unvetted into our country.”

Berney finds that argument ridiculous.

“Refugees are vetted more than anybody else,” she said. “There are six federal agencies that you have to go through to become a refugee in the United States. They are, in many ways, the safest person living next door to you because they have gotten through this whole system.”

And she is quick to point out that most of the refugees were allies to the US war effort.

“We owe it to them to protect them because they’ve been doing that for our military for two decades now,” she said.

Social service agencies are also getting inundated with calls from people who want to donate goods and services to refugees and Berney is grateful that Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers is throwing his political support behind the refugees’ arrival.

“It’s really appreciated,” said Berney.

But political jockeying is no concern for Raz right now. He cannot stop talking about the arrival of his wife and son.

“My wife, I will help her and I will send her to school to learn English. She’s a really great mom. I’m really proud of her.” She is a great cook, too, he adds with a smile.

And he wants to support his son to become an engineer or a doctor someday, something he said could never happen now in Afghanistan.

He gushes: “He’s so lovely, so handsome, he’s a very good boy.”

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