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"I feel heartbroken" - Afghan Man In Albuquerque Unable To Evacuate Loved Ones

Bernat Armangue
Associated Press
A woman holds a child at an internally displaced camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021.

For families around the world trying to evacuate loved ones from Afghanistan, time has run out. Mohmmad Ismail  served as an interpreter for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and like many who worked for the United States, he was threatened by the Taliban. He came to Albuquerque in 2013 on a special visa, but his family members stayed behind. He worked with the State Department and U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján from New Mexico to get his family and other family members related to Albuquerque residents during the evacuation period, but he was unsuccessful. 

MOHAMMAD ISMAIL: They're still there. Under hiding with limited resources and supplies they don't dare to go out, but they have to get their groceries and other supplies needed. And they make that very quickly by wearing masks and covering their face and all that. They're still there with the immense danger that they face that they have to expose sometimes to danger.

KUNM: Are you still in contact with your family?

ISMAIL: Yes I am. And they are still reaching out to me. They're asking for help. The only thing I can say to them is, first of all, be safe with your kids, your family. And then I will do my best, I will do my part to support you. The moment I get updates, I will let you all know. But as of right now, I'm hopeless. And I have no updates for you. My hands are stranded, I cannot do much. I have to wait for the State Department to give me an update.

KUNM: What is your family saying the conditions are now for them in Afghanistan?

ISMAIL: Worse than before, they’re forcefully recruiting the young boys and they're sending them to fight wars within Afghanistan. And they're recruiting them as a member of the Taliban. It's really a dire situation which you can’t do much, they can’t do much. It's like you have to wait,

KUNM: what was the biggest barrier to getting them out? You had help from the offices of Senator Luján and Senator Heinrich.

ISMAIL: The lack of time. The evacuation deadline was the biggest barrier. We did our part, we given them a list. We did provide the list to the senator's office so that they send it to the State Department. But there's no news yet.

KUNM: What are the next steps?

ISMAIL: For now we will wait because the borders are closed. There's no international flights. And I'm still waiting from the State Department or the senator's office to hear an update or a feedback or a guideline what to do. I'm trying to set up a GoFundMe page. I'm going to write my whole story, my journey from the beginning to now so I can raise some money to get them out to a third country myself.

KUNM: You were working with four other families from Albuquerque trying to evacuate a total of 107 of their relatives, many of whom are children. Did anyone from that list get evacuated with the help of connections at Senator Heinrich and Senator Luján's offices?

ISMAIL: None of them left. They are still in the country. No word. Even if we apply emails, State Department, you don't get an update.

KUNM:   How does that make you feel?

ISMAIL: I feel heartbroken. I feel hopeless. I feel left alone. And I feel like there's no support. I know people are trying to help me out. But I feel like the government is taking too long of a time to process people. It's really heartbreaking to see people back home. They're just terrified and terrorized and not being able to go out and not being able to just live freely. And also they look at me for help and feel responsible and I feel like they can't do much. So it's just some mental and emotional journey for me to that I can do much for them.

Yasmin Khan covers worker's rights in New Mexico, with a focus on Spanish-speaking residents. She is finishing her Ph.D. in human geography and women & gender studies at the University of Toronto where she studies refugee and humanitarian aid dynamics in Bangladesh. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism from UNM. Yasmin was director of The Americas Program, an online U.S. foreign policy magazine based in Mexico City, and was a freelance journalist in Bolivia. She covered culture, immigration, and higher education for the Santa Fe New Mexican and city news for the Albuquerque Journal.
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