- Afghan refugees described feelings of relief and sorrow upon leaving Kabul and arriving in the US.
- Thousands of Afghans were recently evacuated from Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover.
- “We came with happiness,” a 31-year-old Afghan mother told Insider.
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Rashida sat in a chair outside her hotel room, acclimating herself to Northern Virginia’s muggy summer air – a change from Kabul’s dry heat. A sleeping baby rested on her chest, while her two other daughters, ages 6 and 14, stood bright-eyed beside her. She kept a watchful gaze on her sons, ages 11 and 12, as they playfully ran around the hotel parking lot.
She said she felt relieved.
The 31-year-old mother fled Afghanistan with her children and husband hours before the Taliban seized control of Kabul on August 15.
Rashida and her family arrived in the US – empty-handed – on a Special Immigrant Visa granted through her husband, who worked eight years as a translator for the American military.
“We came with happiness,” Rashida told Insider.
Like many Afghans, Rashida and her husband grew fearful of the Taliban’s rapid advances across Afghanistan amid the US’ military withdrawal over the summer.
The couple was especially scared that their children would be kidnapped by the Taliban for going to school, Rashida said. So her children stayed home and missed their final exams of the academic year.
Her hope now is to “live in a house and have my kids go to school soon.”
Rashida is among thousands of Afghan refugees who fled their homeland as the Taliban stormed the country. The US has evacuated nearly 59,000 people from Kabul since August 14, according to the White House. Afghan evacuees are being transported from Kabul to bases in the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe, then to their resettlement destination.
For some, including Rashida, their new home is the United States. In recent days, Afghans have landed in Dulles International Airport, outside of Washington, DC. Insider spoke with refugees temporarily staying at a hotel in the area. Only their first names have been used for their safety.
The refugees will join thousands of others who recently arrived in the US after assisting American efforts in the War in Afghanistan. They will be housed temporarily in military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin and New Jersey, until their expected resettlement in the country.
‘Our worries are gone’
Sixteen-year-old Musawir told Insider he’s grateful to have left Kabul and come to the US with his parents and two younger siblings.
“Since we got here, our worries are gone,” he said. “I’m very happy now. We were not safe there.”
His father also received an SIV after working with the American military in Afghanistan for the past 10 years. An estimated 100,000 Afghan SIV applicants and their families need to be relocated to the US, the International Refugee Assistance Project told Insider on Tuesday.
Musawir, who learned English at school in Kabul, said he’s excited about his future. He wants to be reunited with some of his cousins who left Afghanistan years ago to California, which boasts the largest Afghan population in the US.
The teenager does not anticipate he’ll return to Kabul anytime soon, given the uncertainty surrounding a new Taliban rule. Until Afghanistan “gets its independence, I will be here,” Musawir said.
Meher, an Afghan refugee who arrived in the US on an American visa with his toddler and wife, is less thrilled about his life being upended. Fighting back tears, he said he misses his parents and 17-year-old brother, who remain in Kabul.
“If there’s peace, I want to go back,” Meher, 26, told Insider.
During the war, Meher aided the US’ military logistics. He said he built a life for his family – making good money, living in a five-story house, owning a car. Now in the US, he said with a sigh, he has to start from scratch.
A future Taliban government brings uncertainty
The Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law in Afghanistan when it took power from 1996 to 2001. Some of the harsh rules included forbidding education for women and girls and banning music and television.
Meher said he prays a future Taliban government stays true to their latest promises of guaranteeing the safety of Afghans and building better lives for them.
“Hopefully they shouldn’t be foolish,” he said. “They should keep the past 20-year achievements.”
Mustafa, a 32-year-old who served as a finance assistant for US military operations in Afghanistan, is not optimistic. Since he landed in Washington last week, he can’t shake off concerns for his family, who has recently received death threats from the militant group.
His brother, who transported defense supplies in Bagram for US forces, is “sleeping in a different place every night” to hide from the Taliban, Mustafa told Insider.
Mustafa’s unsure if his brother will make it out of the country soon as his American visa is still under review, he said.
The Taliban this week threatened to reject any extension to President Joe Biden’s August 31 deadline to remove US troops from Afghanistan. The warning comes at a precarious time for Biden, who faces pressure to keep the US in Afghanistan beyond the next seven days to ensure more Americans and Afghan refugees are safely evacuated.
Although Rashida escaped the turmoil, her parents are still in Kabul, and chances of their reunion are currently slim. Her six-year-old daughter told Insider it feels strange to be in a new place and that she misses her grandmother.
“If I think of Kabul, I’ll start crying,” she said.