Parents plead with American sons to help them escape from Afghanistan

Emal Salarzai woke up in the middle of the night a few weeks ago, feeling that his skull seemed to be burning, so hot that he walked to the mirror and began to shave his hair.

“I’m thinking about my mom and dad,” he said, “I am the only son, the only child.”

Kabul had fallen two months ago, and his parents were trapped in Afghanistan. They still are. He said that the Taliban are looking for his father and two uncles, who have both helped the US regime-he also worked with the US military to train the Afghan army’s English and computers. His 56-year-old mother, Masoma, suffers from heart disease and diabetes, and cannot understand why other people can land on their outbound flight in their dream seat, but they do not.

When 34-year-old Salarzai occasionally talked to her via WhatsApp and Signal at her home in Elk Grove, a suburb of Sacramento, she asked why he could not help.

“Every time, these are her words,” Salarzai said. “When shall we go out?”

He has no answer.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. had evacuated more than 120,000 people before the withdrawal of U.S. troops in August and the Taliban took over at an alarming rate. Thousands of Afghan refugees included in these airlifts remain in the third country of “water lilies”, waiting to transit to their final destination. More than 70,000 people have arrived in the United States, many of whom are still living on military bases.

Emal Salarzai holds a picture of his father shaking hands with retired U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus.

Emal Salarzai holds a picture of his father shaking hands with retired U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

But family members and aid organizations say that thousands of Afghans at risk are still staying in the country. With fewer options to leave, they are increasingly eager to leave. A few are U.S. citizens or visa holders. There are many more people, such as Salalzai’s parents, who do not have official identities or documents, but are in danger because of their own activities in the country or because their relatives have helped the United States.

A spokesperson for the US State Department stated that it continues to charter flights to facilitate the departure of American citizens and residents, and remains committed to the “major” task of helping vulnerable Afghans who want to leave. The spokesman said that since the official evacuation at the end of August, about 600 people have been evacuated. However, most outbound flights are now handled in Afghanistan through non-profit and aid agencies that charter flights, create their own manifests, and try to collect the necessary government permits through the United States and the new regime. This is a slow and disjointed process.

The US State Department stated that it is working to “speed up” the charter flights and has established an inter-agency team to simplify its work. However, the dissolution of the US government and countless smaller players scrambled to fill the gaps, leaving Afghans with confusion and frustration. Salarzai and others said that since there is no central command and no clear information on how the participants and charter flights are filled, those seeking a way out can only rely on tips from friends, Internet information, and luck.

“It’s not as simple as it used to be… At that time there were military planes and people jumped on the planes to take off,” said Ismail Khan, a volunteer for the non-profit organization “No One Left Behind”, which helps special immigrant visa holders— -Those who have been approved enter the United States to help the military in translators or other key roles. “There are a lot of people who need their approval to get someone on the plane.”

Emal Salarzai stands in the warehouse of his e-commerce company in Sacramento.

Emal Salarzai stands in the warehouse of his e-commerce company in Sacramento.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

Khan said that even if he was connected through non-profit work, he could not get answers about his own family, who were also trapped in Afghanistan.

“There is no follow-up,” he said. “You can’t get the answer from anyone, they will tell you,’Hey, it will happen in a month, two months or a year,’ or,’It won’t happen.'”

Recently, his 15-year-old brother was kidnapped and beaten by the Taliban. He said he was released after his family paid a ransom. Now, his family is divided into four groups and hides. But Khan worried that the high-profile work he advocated for others would continue to be their goal. Like Salarzai’s family, they want to know why he can’t do more.

“For me, the most difficult part is that I have been talking with senators, congressmen and journalists, and trying to do everything for others and my family,” Khan said. “My family, they call me every day and say,’Look, people are out, you are helping people out, but you are not helping us. What is going on?'”

The pressure of people living in the United States to help foreign families is traumatizing the Afghan community—especially special immigrant visa recipients like Salarzai and Khan, who worry that if they can’t find a way out, their families will Death or imprisonment.

“I can assure you that everyone here already suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and they are now experiencing psychological problems,” Khan said. “I’m struggling at work. I really can’t concentrate. …this is a nightmare.”

Kerry Ham, executive director of World Relief Sacramento, a resettlement agency that works with Afghan refugees, said the mental health crisis may intensify. He receives multiple e-mails seeking evacuation help every day, many of them from the refugees themselves, who just “get up every day and try to figure out what they can do,” he said.

Emal Salarzai found items on the shelves in his e-commerce warehouse.

Emal Salarzai finds products on the shelves of its e-commerce warehouse and then ships them to customers.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday, Salarzai was sitting in a rented warehouse where he stored clothes for resale on Amazon. His dark eyes looked tired, and his hair grew into a short hum again. There are almost no lights in the cluttered space, and boxes of shirts and shoes are stacked on the ceiling. As the sun went down on Veterans Day, the room became dim.

He is waiting for his father’s call, but there is no good news. He still hasn’t received any response, except for one source who is trying to get his parents to take a charter flight. The source said that they need to get a passport first-their passport has expired.

But Salarzai said it is difficult to get a passport in Kabul. Hundreds of people line up every day in the official office run by the Taliban. In any case, he hesitated about whether his father was there.

Salarzai’s father served as an intelligence liaison in the overthrown regime. Although he has retired, his neighbors still call him “Dagarwah”-Colonel. When the first Taliban regime took over, the family fled to Pakistan with nothing. Salarzai was 4 years old and they lived in the camp until his father settled down.

After the Taliban were overthrown, they returned to the destroyed Kabul. Salarzai was 14 years old. He remembered crossing the Khyber Pass and seeing a soldier with a gun wearing traditional leather sandals instead of boots. This made him feel like he was home.

Emal Salarzai stands outside his e-commerce business in Sacramento.

Emal Salarzai stands outside his e-commerce business in Sacramento.

(Jason Almond/Los Angeles Times)

He grew up in Kabul and his surroundings are being rebuilt. One TV station has become dozens. There is music, and there are girls doing things. His cousins ​​all went to school-one became a teacher, the other became a doctor. His uncles are engaged in dangerous work to support the government, and his family is rebuilding. He helped the colonel build an eight-bedroom “villa” where their extended family lived together, and the colonel sent his grandchildren to school every day.

He said that Salarzai was promoted to trainer at the Morehead English Language Training Center, an elite school that prepares the Afghan army to go to the United States and other countries to take courses in special forces such as Army Rangers.

On his phone, he saves a photo Canadian Lieutenant Colonel Jean-Guy Levesque When Salarzai became the site leader and supervisor of the school in 2012, he was given an operating procedure book, which was the first Afghan to take over the facility, he said. He loves this job and loves to help Afghanistan become a new country.

But he began to be threatened and worried about his children. In 2015, he came to the United States on a special immigrant visa.

After spending several months in the United States, he tried to return to Afghanistan, missing his parents so much.His mother told him, “People are eager to leave this country, and you have a green card in your hand and say you don’t want to leave… Let’s go, if [Allah] Help, we will be with you. “

Not long ago, Taliban members came to the door of the house where Salarzai’s grandfather and 8-year-old cousin lived. He said they slapped the boy and asked to know where the colonel was. The neighbors called their families to warn them.

“Tell the colonel not to go home,” they said.

Both Salarzai and Khan stated that they are worried that as time goes by and international interests diminish, the Taliban will become bolder. They worry that they will not be able to let their family members leave when chances are slim.

“People are forgetting them,” Salarzai said.

“There is so much hope,” he said, almost touching with two fingers, “this gives me strength.”

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