New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
‘I’m so worried’ for trapped family
Former refugee a Sanctuary Kitchen chef in New Haven
NEW HAVEN — The chaotic, violent evacuation of Afghanistan hit too close to home for Homa Assadi.
Assadi, a chef at Sanctuary Kitchen who arrived in the United States as a refugee five years ago, has several family members who were unable to evacuate from Afghanistan when the U.S. pulled out of the country Aug. 31. Her brother was near the Kabul airport when a terrorist bomb exploded Aug. 26, killing at least 169 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. troops.
“My older brother went to the airport that time,” Assadi said.
“He stayed over there three days, but the bomb happened,” she said. “They saw all the children and the women and men killed and the blood … but they escaped and went back to some friends’ house.”
They have since returned to a town in northern Afghanistan, she said.
Touching her left chest, Assadi said she felt something wrong with her heart when she heard the news of the bombing and didn’t feel well for days.
“Our country is now not safe. Every area, every city is not safe,” she said. “But also I’m worried about our country’s people.”
Her brother and his wife have five children. She also is concerned for her parents and those of her husband. A brother-in-law lives in Indonesia but, like the Assadis, are unable to help their family, even financially.
“There is no work, no food over there,” Homa Assadi said. “I send them money, but the bank is closed. The money comes back here.” Her brother drives for Uber but since no one leaves their homes there is no business.
Her elderly parents also cannot leave their home because it is unsafe. “Every week I talk to them, but they are still worried and have no money for food,” Assadi said. “I’m so worried. I need to find somebody to help them to come here.”
Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, which helped Assadi and her husband get settled five years ago, has been working to try to evacuate clients who had returned to Afghanistan, with 13 families left in the country, IRIS spokeswoman Ann O’Brien said.
That leaves the many family members of former or current IRIS clients, such as the Assadis.
“The IRIS legal team has trained a group of experienced lawyers to do applications for family members who are trying to get out,” she said. About 30 lawyers are working pro bono to help Afghans in the country fill out the application forms for what are called humanitarian parole visas.
“We don’t know yet how successful this will be; it remains to be seen,”
The issue is that of three types of visas, just the humanitarian visa, which rarely has been used in the past, is available for most Afghans. Special immigrant visas were issued to those who assisted the U.S. military as interpreters and in other roles.
Priority 2 visas are available for others who have not fully met the requirements for an SIV, “but the processing for that P-2 can only begin once they are in a neighboring country,” such as Pakistan or Iran, O’Brien said. “When the Taliban first started taking control of provinces ... they took over the borders,” so once planes stopped evacuating people, they were unable to leave by land.
A U.S. official confirmed last week that four American citizens were helped to cross the border out of Afghanistan.
The Assadis, who are from Ghazni province, have four children, aged 12 to 3 years. The youngest was born in the United States and so is an American citizen. Her husband works at Walmart.
Homa Assadi’s cultural companion at IRIS was Donna Golden, who three years ago connected her with Sanctuary Kitchen, a program of CitySeed in which immigrant and refugee women prepare their native dishes for pickup and catering. Chefs also come from Syria, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A supper club, in which a chef comes to a client’s home, prepares a meal and talks about her cuisine and culture, was suspended because of the pandemic but will return, according to Sanctuary Kitchen’s program director, Quynh Tran.
“I found a lot of friends here from every country, and I learn a different dish from every country,” Assadi said.
Assadi makes her own Afghan dishes, including naan (flatbread), korma lawand (chicken and cashew curry), aushak (leek and spinach dumplings with a tomato bean sauce topped with garlic yogurt) and keyk kadoo (cardamom-spiced squash cake).
She has also learned to make Syrian grape leaves, Iraqi rice pudding, hummus and other dishes.