An OC Family Is Finally Headed Back To The US After Being Trapped In Afghanistan
An Anaheim family that was trapped in Afghanistan after the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban last month is finally on its way home.
Bashir Kashefi, his wife Naseema and their three young children traveled to Kabul in June to visit relatives and were set to fly home Aug. 20. But after the U.S.-backed government collapsed days earlier, their flight was canceled and they found themselves stranded.
“It was unexpected, and we were really scared,” said Kashefi by phone from Afghanistan last week. “Really, really scared.”
The family, which arrived as refugees in the United States in 2017, landed safely in Qatar on Sunday night. They are now staying in a hotel awaiting return to the United States. The Kashefis are among several other U.S. citizens and legal residents who have been evacuated in recent days.
The U.S. State Department released this statement on Monday:
"We can confirm that a Qatar Airways flight departed from Kabul on Sunday, September 19th with 21 U.S. citizens and 48 lawful permanent residents on board. We are thankful to Qatari authorities, who continue to coordinate these flights with the Taliban. As we have stated before, we will continue to help U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans affiliated with the U.S. government to depart Afghanistan. We welcome continued cooperation by all involved with facilitating these flights."
As of last Friday, the State Department was tracking approximately 100 U.S. citizens wanting to leave Afghanistan and an unclear number of legal residents, according to an emailed statement. The agency did not say Monday how many remained to be evacuated.
Kashefi counts himself and his family as extremely lucky.
“When we [boarded] the plane, believe me, we were close to crying,” said Kashefi, who spoke with KPCC/LAist by phone from Qatar on Monday.
Kashefi was granted refugee status along with his family because he had once worked for the U.S. military as a translator. They arrived in early 2017 and settled in Anaheim where he found work as a security guard. It was their first trip back to Kabul since they’d left. In that time, the Kashefis, who arrived here with one child, had welcomed two children born in the U.S., and Naseema was especially eager to visit her family.
After their return flight was canceled, they joined the throngs of people at the Kabul airport in the following days, hoping to board an outbound flight. But with three young children in tow — ages six, four and 18 months — it was impossible.
“We went to the airport more than nine times,” Kashefi said. “And we were trying to get inside the airport to get on a plane to leave … [But] I have three young kids. We were not able to go inside the airport. It was very hard.”
One time, shots began ringing out nearby as the Kashefis tried to duck and hide.
“These people started firing,” Kashefi said. “Firing started from everywhere. My wife disappeared. I was just hiding myself around a big stone. It was a very horrible time. I didn’t know how to keep my family safe.”
The family decided to give up at the time. As U.S. legal permanent residents, with two children who are U.S. citizens — not to mention Kashefi’s former involvement with the U.S. military — they felt like targets.
“Everywhere, there were so many people with guns,” he said. “But nobody knows if they are from the government … they are stopping everybody they want, searching … and nobody can stop them.”
The family moved several times, staying with various friends to avoid detection, because gunmen were “searching district by district.”
He also worried they might be found out because the children would at times speak English among themselves.
One early morning, Kashefi said, several people living down the street from where they were staying were killed when that home was struck by rocket fire.
When he first spoke with LAist late last week, Kashefi said the family was in close contact with State Department officials, but that there had been no news about leaving.
Kashefi detailed his story and his fears in this video last week:
‘We Are Their Family’
As the Kashefis were stranded, a group of local volunteers from Miry’s List, a grassroots organization of volunteers aiding refugees, along with others, got together to raise money for the family to pay their rent and other bills.
One is Shereef Moustafa, who befriended Kashefi after helping recruit him to participate in a local TEDx talk last year.
After the Kashefis were stuck in Kabul, Moustafa and other volunteers teamed up to organize a fundraising site; he also made several visits to the Kashefis’ apartment building in Anaheim to make sure their car was safe and that everything seemed in order.
“It became clear to us that our best and highest use would be to raise funds to keep his expenses going while he was not here,” said Moustafa, who lives in Long Beach. “Paying the apartment, paying the bills, keeping the mobile phone paid for, because that was our lifeline to him.”
Jane Borden, another volunteer, first met the Kashefis soon after their arrival in 2017, when she volunteered through Miry’s List to assist them. Her child was the same age as their oldest daughter and the two families would end up becoming close.
“When we go visit them, they tell us that we are their family,” said Borden, who lives in Lincoln Heights and would regularly visit the Kashefis in Anaheim. “And I feel that way. And that is why when I heard they were stuck in Afghanistan, I had to do whatever I could to get them home, because that is what family does.”
Several volunteers were in contact with legislators involved in efforts to evacuate remaining Americans. But as of late last week, it didn’t seem like anything was progressing for the family.
Speaking with LAist last week, Kashefi said he and his wife were growing so desperate that if they were not able to leave within a couple of weeks, they would consider crossing the border into a neighboring country.
‘It Is A Dream’
Fortunately for them, it did not come to that: This past weekend, a State Department official got in touch and instructed them to report to a hotel near the airport for a possible flight to Qatar.
Kashefi said he was skeptical at first. When he arrived at the hotel, their names were not on the departure list. But he was asked to wait, so he did — all day. Finally, at around 4:30 in the afternoon, he said, he was told to “get to the van, go the airport and get the flight.”
Getting on the plane, then landing in Qatar, he said, the family was in disbelief.
“It is a dream,” he said. “Believe me, last night we saw a dream. Because [we were] exhausted and so tired, we don’t believe we [got on] the plane.”
Now, Kashefi says, they are safe. He’s had a good night’s sleep for the first time since they were stranded in Kabul, he said Monday. The kids are asking if they are already in the United States — soon, their parents tell them.
They aren’t sure how long they will need to stay in Qatar — perhaps several days. Meanwhile, the local volunteers will figure out if they’ll need to cover any of the Kashefis’ flight costs and continue raising funds in case it’s necessary.
Kashefi said they look forward to returning to Anaheim.
“We are thinking [we’ll] start a new life again in the United States,” he said.