He had fled Afghanistan as a child. He is now seeking asylum in the United States.

Zabi remembers well the hunger and thirst he felt after two days without food and water in the jungles of Malaysia. He still remembers sleeping on the streets of an Indonesian city, as well as the horrific immigrant concentration camp where he was held for months.

After fleeing war-torn Afghanistan in 2015 at the age of 13, Zabi embarked on a year-long odyssey in three countries without his family. He eventually moved to a refugee camp for migrant children in Indonesia, where he lived for more than three years.

The United States, the only country to have a refugee program for non-children, participated in ZABI in 2019. She quickly learned English and graduated from American high school. In August, Zubi began his new year at Western Michigan University.

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Zabi graduated from a high school in Michigan in the spring of 2021, two years after arriving in the United States as an unaccompanied refugee child.

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“I was so lucky. I couldn’t believe it. It was a dream,” Zabi, now 20, told CBS News. “People lost hope and I lost hope of leaving Indonesia.”

Her own refugee journey is over. His American dream has just begun. But Zabi is now desperately trying to help her mother and four siblings, who recently fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and become refugees in neighboring Pakistan.

As the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan this summer, the United States evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans, including those who supported US forces, endangering family members and residents of American citizens and others. Understood It is currently working. Resettle More than 70,000 of them in communities across the United States

But countless endangered Afghans with whom the United States has ties – including Zabi’s family – have not been evacuated and are now stranded in Afghanistan or neighboring countries seeking resettlement in the United States. Are

They include family members of Afghans in the United States. Those who assisted US forces and who have special immigrant visa applications pending. And other risk groups, including journalists and members of the LGBTQ community.

Overseas Afghans have submitted more than 28,000 applications since July. ParoleAn act that allows immigrants without a visa to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, according to official figures. The United States typically receives less than 2,000 parole applications each year.

The State Department has also received 10,700 referrals. A special refugee post The Biden administration formed in August to resettle Afghans who worked for US-based organizations, including the United States, US-funded projects and news organizations.

But Afghans hoping to come to the United States under these legal routes have to leave Afghanistan to deal with US consular officials in third countries – a condition that is “extremely difficult” for many, as recognized by the State Department. ۔

“A shining light”

Zabi said he now understands his family’s decision to leave Afghanistan seven years ago. “No one leaves their 13-year-old child, and if the water is not safer than land, no one sends him on a boat alone to the other side of the ocean,” he said.

Zabi kept in touch with her family. But to avoid disturbing family members, he said he avoided telling them about the many difficult experiences he had endured over the years in Southeast Asia.

He did not mention that he had been detained at the Kuala Lumpur airport or that he had arrived in Indonesia by boat after being pursued by Malaysian authorities. He did not tell her that he had slept outside the immigration office in Pekan Baru, Indonesia, for two weeks.

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After arriving in Indonesia by boat in 2015, Zabi, right and other refugee boys slept on the streets for two weeks.

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Zabi did not even mention his transfer to the adult immigration detention center, where he remembers not being allowed out for three months. “I kept lying and lying, and kept saying I was fine, everything was fine,” he recalled.

After eight months in detention, Zabi was transferred to a residential facility for refugee children in Medan, Indonesia. The shelter was less restrictive than the detention center, but Zabi said he was only allowed to go for a few hours on weekdays.

“Refugees are not allowed to go to school,” he noted. “I was not allowed to work.”

He said spending years in the shelter had a profound effect on Zabi and the other boys’ mental health. Zabi woke up one morning and saw the lifeless body of another refugee boy who had hanged himself.

“We were friends,” he said. “We cared for each other.”

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In 2016, Zabi, right, and other refugee boys were taken from Pekin Baru to a refugee center for migrant minors in Medan, another city in Indonesia.

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Zabi said the imprisonment was exacerbated by constant concerns about the safety of his family. In late 2018, he said, he lost contact with his family for a month when his home district of Jaghori was attacked by Taliban militants, forcing him to flee Kabul.

Zabi found some relief by playing football, learning English through YouTube and Facebook videos, and translating for other Afghan refugees. “If I had not done so, I would have been mentally ill,” he said. “I couldn’t survive.”

In 2018, Zabi was informed that the United States had chosen to resettle him – a news he described as “a glowing light at the very end” of a “long tunnel”. After more than a year of interviews, paperwork, medical examinations and vaccinations, Zubi arrived in Michigan in June 2019.

Came to America through Zebi An unknown program One of the few vulnerable refugee minors admitted during the Trump administration who resettles refugee children stranded in third countries without their parents and puts them in foster and group homes in the United States. Which led to a dramatic drop in refugee enrollment.

After resettling 749 underage refugee minors in the last three years of Obama’s presidency, the United States received 373 of them between 2017 and 2020. In fiscal year 2021, only one helpless refugee child arrived in the United States through the program, the State Department said. .

“First Home”

When the US-backed Afghan government was overthrown in August, Zabi was attending an acquaintance at the University of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. He was defeated.

However, studying at an American university seemed like a dream when he was traveling to Southeast Asia as a young man. In two years, Zabi learned English, graduated from Michigan High School and received a full college scholarship.

But Zebi could only think of his mother and siblings, whom he had not been able to contact for days. When he did, Zebi learned that his family had fled to the Pakistani border.

“I was going through a lot mentally,” he said. “At some point, I thought I couldn’t do it.”

To help his family find their way to Pakistan, Zebi sold his car, which he was able to buy after working in a full-time factory in Ida, Michigan, while still in high school.

His mother, three sisters and a younger brother – two of whom are minors – are now in Quetta, Pakistan. Zabi believes he could be harmed if he returns to Afghanistan and is looking for ways to bring him to the United States.

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In August, Zubi began his new year at Western Michigan University, where he is studying politics.

Zubi helped her family register with the United Nations refugee agency, which refers cases to the United States, but through the US refugee program, their resettlement can continue for more than a year. Because cases usually take 12 to 18 months to process.

He has also recently submitted humanitarian parole applications, which may allow his family to come to the United States faster. But according to the agency, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved only 100 applications from Afghans abroad.

In order to bring his mother and siblings under parole, Zubi will have to prove that he will be able to help them financially. But Zabi is now a full-time student and unemployed. “I don’t have those resources,” he said.

Toby Grant, Zabi’s case manager, said: “It’s been a long time coming and something has happened to her and she’s worked hard to get here and yet other people are still prioritizing her life.” Tory Grant said. Bethany Christian Services, The group that resettled him. “I think it shows how sympathetic he is.”

Zabi has thought about returning to his studies – and his scholarship – to work full time. He admits that possibility scares him. He knows how much patience and hard work he put in to get to this point.

But Zabi also knows what it means to be forced to leave one’s homeland. He knows what it feels like to be a refugee in a foreign land. And for her, helping her family is a clear priority, even if it means postponing her American dream.

“I will not forgive myself if I do not do this,” he said. “The first house.”

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