Afghan refugee family reflects on escape, new life in US

Obtained by ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — “They know that I was working with the coalition forces,” Abdul, a former interpreter for the U.S. Marines said about the Taliban when ABC News spoke with him in June 2021. “If they take over Kabul, they will come, they will behead us, they will kill us. I know that I will be killed by the Taliban,” he told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz.

Just two months later, the United States-backed Afghan government collapsed, and the Taliban swept through Kabul, taking over the country. Chaos ensued as thousands of Afghans rushed to the Kabul airport to flee, 13 U.S. service members, along with 170 Afghans were killed in a terrorist bombing, and a U.S. transport plane departed with Afghans clinging to its wheels.

“Those days were worst days in all [our] life — in all Afghanistan,” Abdul told ABC News this August. “There was no life, there was no future.”

“We lost almost — our everything, our dreams, our planning, what we wanted to do for our future,” Lima, his wife, added. ABC News is not using their full names to ensure their safety.

Having worked with the U.S., Abdul was immediately in danger. The Taliban came knocking on his door, he said, and he and his wife decided the only way they would see a future with their three young daughters — Susan, Hosai, and Uswa – was to escape.

“That was horrible when we were coming to [the] airport,” Hosai, 10, added as she said she remembered the gunfire and the harrowing journey to safety. “That was very horrible.”

The family made it to the Kabul airport. And with the help of Abdul’s American friends, in addition to ABC News, his family was able to make it out. First to Qatar, then to New Jersey, and finally to Northern Virginia, where his family is rebuilding their lives from scratch.

But Abdul and his family are the lucky ones — they’re the ones who got out, and have resettled successfully. Some 3.5 million Afghans are still displaced within Afghanistan, according to a United Nations Refugee Agency report from December. And while over 100,000 Afghans were airlifted out by the United States that August, many Afghans who have resettled in the United States are struggling.

Many Afghans have found their arrival riddled with red tape – from having difficulty receiving a Social Security number to finding affordable housing to remaining in constant limbo over their immigration status. Many Afghans came to the United States under so-called humanitarian parole, which lasts two years, and they now need to apply for asylum. But a Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University report found that asylum status is denied in 70% of cases.

Abdul and his family are the lucky ones. After attending a job fair, Abdul got hired by the Hilton Hotels chain to become a safety and security manager. He says he loves his job.

“I love the environment of my job especially,” Abdul said. “And I am sure I will get more opportunities because this is a land of opportunities.”

Abdul and his family have slowly been able to make their new home feel like the one they had to escape, decorating their living room floor with a bright red Afghan rug and having piping hot tea always ready to serve any guests.

Abdul’s three daughters have started the new school year — entering 8th grade, 5th grade, and 2nd grade.

“When we came here, it was like — [at] first, I didn’t feel like it was home, but after a month I [felt] like in my — I’m in my home,” Susan, 13, said. “So, it feels so good. I’m comfortable here. We are happy to be here in the United States.”

“Yeah,” Uswa, 6, added. “And I — and I feel safe here because there are no Taliban here.”

Abdul and Lima recognize that they are the lucky ones, especially since women in Afghanistan have lost many freedoms since the Taliban took over. They know escaping is the right decision.

“This is the place that they will have a great future,” Abdul said of his three girls. “And I’m happy. Everybody’s happy here right now. These five people are very happy and enjoying life in America.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.