“It is not that we are here—we are physically here, but still mentally back [in] our country.”
When Mohammad* came to the Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSSNCA) office in Fairfax, VA, he was still reeling. It had been less than a week since he, like nearly 65,000 other Afghans, had been evacuated via airlift from the Kabul airport after Afghanistan’s government fell to the Taliban.
Mohammad left Afghanistan on a military plane carrying more than 500 people, arriving first in Doha, Qatar to a small, cramped shelter where “the weather was very hot” before flying to Germany, where he stayed at a crowded military camp for three nights before taking a commercial flight to the United States.
While his journey was extraordinarily difficult, however, it was his last day in Afghanistan that haunted him the most.
“It was the saddest moment of my life, I had never imagined,” he said.
Like many evacuees, Mohammad was forced to choose between staying in hiding with his family in Afghanistan or risking the chaos at the Kabul airport for a chance to provide them a better life. The impossible decision was further complicated by his work with the United States, which put him in grave danger of Taliban retaliation—and even death.
He, along with more than 80,000 Afghans and their families, was eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, a visa given to qualifying Afghan nationals who served the US mission in Afghanistan. The SIV should have ensured his and his family’s safety. Instead, due to astronomical processing delays and an insufficient U.S. evacuation plan, Mohammad felt he had no choice but to try to ensure his family’s safe passage from within the United States.
“It was really difficult. I tried to bring my family,” he said. “I’m [a] father of five kids—all of them live back there. So I tried to bring them…[but] crossing and entering to the airport was like a rocket science job—not for me, for everyone. Only young and energetic people could do [it].”
Mohammad knew what lay ahead. He had been in high school during the most recent Taliban regime, which he called “a dark moment for all Afghan people.” His brother had been assassinated by the Taliban, and he feared he was next.
“At the time, I was young,” he said. “But now I am a father. I have the responsibility of my kids. I didn’t want to put my kids in trouble, so I decided to come to America and to find a better future for my kids and for myself…It was difficult for us to bring all of our family, so we decided it will be better for us to [come] here…next time, we will help them and bring them here.”
When he arrived at the LSSNCA office, he had not yet been able to contact his wife or his children—though he was given a SIM card that would allow him to call them later that day. His family remains in hiding, and Mohammad worries about them constantly.
“No one is safe in Afghanistan,” he said. “Now, it’s become like the field of battle there. My family is not safe. If they were safe there, I would not come here.”
“I hope to meet them here,” he added. “I’m really eagerly waiting to give a hug to my kids.”
He looks forward to the day when his children can join him in the United States and do their favorite things together as a family: playing soccer, cards, and board games and planting in their garden. While he waits for the chance to bring the family to the United States—likely through the SIV program—he is focused on building a life in Virginia.
“It is like heaven. We understand America from the first morning,” he said. “A lady came and [said] ‘Good morning, have a good day.’ We saw beautiful and nice dogs. We thought: ‘This is the life, this is the place.’ It’s really great.”
After being directed to LSSNCA by a family friend, Mohammad came to the office for help with accessing essential services, including housing and clothing. He was able to “shop” for toiletries, essential household items, and more through the rows and rows of donations, and case managers were able to provide a hotel for him to stay in until more permanent housing was secured.
The hospitality of the staff and volunteers moved him. He was so deeply touched, in fact, that he vowed to return soon—this time, as a volunteer.
“I feel I am a needy person when I come here,” he said. “All of the people smile with me, give moral support to me, allowed me to have food, everything. That’s why I want to come and help here as you did for me. It is the best way to help others rather than yourself—because we are human beings. We need to help others. Helping others is a part of our culture.”
As he builds a new life for himself and his family here, however, his heart remains with his home country.
“Afghanistan is a country [where] the people are very innocent,” he said. “What is between the government is something else. Thousands of kids are running on the street. They need for help. They need for education. They need for shelter. They need for food. We want [Americans] to have a good relationship with us. We want Americans to come to stay there. They should enjoy the weather, the mountainside, the rivers, the fruits. Let them come, and they will understand the life here.”
*Name has been changed for security