‘This is now our country’
Afghan refugees happy here, hope U.S. doesn’t give up on their homeland
WEST HAVEN — Over and over, the new Afghan refugee said he and his family finally were secure, with no shootings or bomb blasts awaiting them.
“I am happy the U.S. government brought me here,” he said, as his 11- and 9-year-old sons played on a grassy area outside a motel in West Haven this week.
“This is now our country, not only the American country. This is also our land,” A.A. said.
A resident of the Arghandab District of Kandahar, Hearst Connecticut Media is only identifying him by his initials, A.A. on the advice of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services of New Haven, who said the Taliban in Afghanistan are going door to door to relatives looking for those affiliated with the U.S., and that any identification generates hate mail.
A.A.’s message of hope for his immediate family was tempered by the needs of other colleagues and relatives left behind, as he showed copies of documents on his phone from several of them who hoped their pleas would reach U.S. government officials.
The 33-year-old, his 28year-old wife and four children, which also includes a 6-year-old girl and a disabled 3-year-old boy, arrived in Connecticut Aug. 7 and are awaiting an apartment through IRIS.
Ordinarily, a furnished unit would have been secured for them, but there was no time as the U.S. rushes to get its citizens, and the Afghans who worked with them, out of the country, which now again is being controlled by Taliban fighters.
A.A. said the Taliban hate the tribe to which he belongs “because they were shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. government.”
He said he worked with the U.S. military for 6 years, first as a translator for 3 years and then with a cement contractor through CDG, an American company hired for construction work on U.S. projects.
“We had a lot of laborers,” he said. For a decade, he also worked for the Afghan government, he said.
He said it was dangerous going back and forth to the work site outside Kandahar. He witnessed a tank being blown up by a suicide bomber with some eight people killed, as well as another incident in which a friend died.
A.A. said when he arrived in the U.S. at Fort Lee in Virginia at the end of July, where the family stayed for eight days after some 22 hours of traveling, he contacted his parents and a friend back in Afghanistan.
“Every day they are crying that all the cities, all the country is under the Taliban,” he said.
Their message: “Please help us. Don’t leave us behind. Please help us as soon as possible,” he said.
He said his friends are afraid to leave their houses and have been cut off from the Internet. A.A. said the Taliban went to one friend’s house looking for him, as he tries to stay safe and somehow get passage out of the country.
“The Taliban say they don’t want to hurt people who helped the U.S. government . ... We don’t trust the Taliban. The U.S. government must bring the people here as soon as possible,” A.A. said.
When he was growing up, A.A. said his father would praise the Americans for building hospitals, schools and bridges, which the terrorists then would blow up.
Zeenie Malik, who is with IRIS, said the family is on an “expedited path to an official Special Immigrant Visa.”
The SIV is available to Afghans who worked with Americans and now are in danger of being killed because of that affiliation.
Malik said, in order to speed up the evacuations, “special travel documents were issued for some like him.”
She said they know he will qualify for an SIV, but because the American embassy there was shutting down, all the steps could not be completed for the large numbers in need of green cards and full SIVs, with which the refugees normally arrive.
In addition to the necessary paperwork, the family carried a letter from Sarah Chayes, a former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The former National Public Radio journalist and former special adviser to U.S. Adm. Michael Mullen when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through 2011, vouched for the family.
A.A. said Chayes knew his wife’s father, who was a high government official in Afghanistan for a time. He said his wife’s father was killed in a suicide bomb attack when she was a child.
He said she had reached the 7th level in school by that point, but her uncle did not let her advance beyond that for fear of more attacks.
The whole family soon will be enrolled in English classes and the children in school, with visits this week to a refugee health clinic at
Yale New Haven Hospital.
A.A. said his wife hopes at some point to start a business as a seamstress, but they are awaiting feedback first on their disabled child, who he said cannot speak or walk.
His wife was not in the interview, he said, as she had walked to a nearby location for food that they then would heat in the microwave in their motel room.
The whole family is staying in one room with two beds as IRIS puts out the call for temporary accommodations or landlords with reasonable rents for them.
Donations are welcome to help the agency, which it said is the largest resettlement group in the state, as expenses increase and it remains on 24-hour notice for more arrivals.
A.A. is confident he will get a job as he also has computer science training in addition to having worked for the contractor. He asked to come to Connecticut because he has a friend who immigrated here three years ago.
Anne O’Brien, director of community engagement at IRIS, said since July, 32 Afghans have come to Connecticut through IRIS — seven families and a number of individuals.
In addition to the steppedup processing of refugees, O’Brien said they are in contact with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal because some 40 clients of the agency are now stranded in Afghanistan, having gone there to visit after becoming citizens or permanent residents not realizing how quickly the situation might deteriorate.
The agency has hosted some 500 Afghans in the last five years; the majority of refugees it has helped in recent years are from that country.
This year and in 2022, O’Brien said they project they will resettle about 400 refugees from all countries: 250 in Greater New Haven, 100 in Greater Hartford and 50 sponsored by others, usually religious organizations.
A.A. wants President Joe Biden to help Afghans get to the airport through the Taliban checkpoints, and he wants to see more troops sent back to Afghanistan. His hope is that Biden gets those supporting the government and the Taliban to resume talking and stop fighting.
While much of the discussion nationally on Afghanistan is on the chaos now unfolding there and Biden has made it clear he feels he is on the right path, A.A. holds out hope things will change, starting with a renewed commitment from the U.S.
“Without the U.S., we cannot do this,” he said of peace and progress.