OC Family Returns Home Safely After Weeks Stranded In Afghanistan
An Anaheim family of five has made it home safely after being trapped in Afghanistan for several weeks following the Taliban’s takeover of the country last month.
Bashir and Naseema Kashefi and their three young children arrived at LAX Saturday night, exhausted from a journey that began with an evacuation flight from Afghanistan to Qatar almost a week earlier.
Speaking by phone from their Anaheim apartment Sunday, Bashir Kashefi said they were tired, but ecstatic to be home.
“To get my family safely back home, that was my purpose,” Kashefi said. “It was my big hope to come home, and my dreams [came] true.”
Friends who had been helping raise money to pay the family’s rent and bills during their absence picked them up at the airport.
The Kashefis spent their first night back at another friend’s house in Anaheim, where they slept a few hours, before making it back to their apartment Sunday.
The family’s ordeal began in June, when they traveled to Afghanistan to visit relatives. It was their first trip back since they arrived here in 2017 as refugees. They had a return flight set for Aug. 20.
But on Aug. 15, the U.S.-backed government collapsed as Taliban forces took the capital city of Kabul — and the Kashefis found themselves stranded, their flight canceled.
Before the family was evacuated from Afghanistan, Bashir Kashefi told us by phone that the government collapse “was unexpected, and we were really scared. Really, really scared.”
‘It Was So Dangerous’
He had good reason to be: Bashir had worked as a translator for the U.S military for seven years before moving here, and the couple’s two youngest children are U.S. citizens. They worried about being targeted.
“I [could not] go out, because if somebody knows that I am from the U.S., and my kids are U.S. citizens … maybe they’d kidnap my kids, do something [to] me,” he said Sunday, once they were home. “There were many people with guns … it was so dangerous.”
Kashefi said after their flight home was canceled, the couple and their three children — the oldest of whom is 6 — went to the airport every day for nine straight days, trying to get on any flight they could.
But with their young children in tow, they found it impossible to get through the massive crowds at the airport. At one point, gunshots rang out near them. They eventually gave up.
The family spent several weeks hiding out with friends and relatives, moving often, afraid of being found out.
Kashefi described their ordeal in detail in this video, made shortly before leaving Afghanistan:
The family was in touch with U.S. officials, but after weeks of waiting, Kashefi said they were growing desperate. They even began considering trying to cross the border into a neighboring country.
Then a little over a week ago, a U.S. State Department employee contacted them and told them to report to a hotel near the airport. After waiting for news all day, they learned they were on the passenger list, along with other U.S. citizens and legal residents, for a Sept. 19 evacuation flight to Qatar.
That flight out of Kabul felt like “a dream,” Kashefi told us last week. “When we [got on] the plane, believe me, we were close to crying.”
After a few days in a hotel in Qatar, they boarded a flight this past Saturday to L.A., connecting in Philadelphia.
Kashefi described landing in the United States for the first time in months, in Philadelphia, as feeling like they had left the U.S. “maybe 100 years ago,” he said. “Everything was strange.”
It also felt strange — but wonderful — to wake up in their apartment in Anaheim late Sunday, he said, jet-lagged from a 12-hour time difference.
Back To ‘Our Normal Lives’
Kashefi said his family will always be grateful for the support of U.S. friends and well-wishers who helped make sure they had a home to return to. While they were stuck in Afghanistan, several friends and volunteers, including a few volunteers from the Miry’s List refugee assistance group, got together to create a fundraising campaign, which they’ve continued in hopes of helping the Kashefis pay off the cost of their flight back to L.A.
“When I came to the LAX airport, when I saw my American friends … I was so happy, it gave me energy,” Kashefi said. “I’m very grateful and thankful.”
Now that they’re home, there’s much to do: Eventually, Bashir will go back to his job as a security guard, and the older kids will go back to school.
The couple also hopes to get advice on how they might help their relatives who are still in Afghanistan. Much of Bashir’s immediate family is now living in Turkey, but Naseema’s family remains in Kabul.
But for the next few days, they mostly want to rest, and recover from their long ordeal.
“Just relax for some days,” Kashefi said. “Then we’ll start our daily lives, our normal lives.”