“In one night, everything changed,” Adam said, as he recalled when the Taliban began taking control of Afghanistan in mid-August.
Adam, his wife and their 7-year-old son are three of the more than 150 Afghans whom Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville have and will continue to help resettle in the next several months through the State Department’s Afghan Placement Assistance Program.
At the beginning of September, the Department of Homeland Security implemented Operation Allies Welcome “to support vulnerable Afghans, including those who worked alongside us in Afghanistan for the past two decades as they safely resettle in the United States,” according to the official Department of Homeland Security website, further leading to the implementation of the APA.
The APA program provides $1,225 per individual providing services for up to 90 days, and most refugees are normally self-sustaining within about six months after arrival.
Since August 2018, Adam served as an Afghan interpreter for U.S. service members through the security office at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Because of his service to the U.S. troops, he requested his family’s true identity remain anonymous to protect their loved ones who are still in Kabul.
“I loved working with the U.S. Embassy because of that diplomatic mission. That was very important for Afghans,” Adam said. “At that time, I needed to work with them and to support them for their security, for everything. That diplomatic mission, that built our government, and I’m greatly appreciative that I worked with them.
“We had a really nice life in Kabul. We had everything,” he said. “We had an apartment; we had our own car. All of our families were very happy.”
Then everything changed.
It changed overnight
Adam said he was on duty like any other night, taking security instructions, checking posts, and even creating e-mails for other security guards so that they could communicate with their guard force commanders.
“We had intelligence reports that Kabul wouldn’t be safe,” Adam said. “Therefore, I took the responsibility to create e-mail addresses for each individual, so that they would be able to apply for the Special Immigration Visa program in the near future.”
There were more developments the next morning, he said.
“The next morning, I came home, and my friend called me saying that our bank accounts will be closed,” Adam said.
Sure enough, when he went to the bank later that morning, even with his ID card from the U.S. Embassy and mobile phone photos proving his identity, he was unable to withdraw funds, which meant he was forced to leave behind three years of salary savings from working as an interpreter. The changes only continued when Adam later returned to the U.S. Embassy to retrieve another of his ID cards.
“The police were not wearing their uniforms, but they were holding their posts,” he said. “I got permission from them to take my ID card because that was important for me, and I went back home. I was very afraid at that time.”
Adam and his family spent three more nights in Kabul before his guard force commander called to say that he could go to the airport to leave. Unfortunately, only his immediate family could come with him, forcing he and his wife to both leave extended family members behind.
The fear did not end with the arrival at the airport.
“We had a very bad problem with the crowd of people. The U.S. Marine forces helped us, but they couldn’t control the situation inside the airport,” Adam said. “Even my son was very scared at the time. His shoes were gone, but he didn’t mention that because he couldn’t talk at that time.”
“He was so afraid, and he couldn’t even breathe,” Adam’s wife added.
The family spent a full 24 hours at the Kabul airport before they were able to get a flight out with a military airplane; a flight they took without their belongings because their luggage was lost. That flight got them out of Kabul, and they were at their next stop for 48 hours.
Because it took time to prepare sleeping arrangements in the airplane hangar, Adam and his family sat under the wings of the airplane to try and shield themselves from the hot sun.
“Our skin was burnt very badly by the sun,” he recalled.
Eventually, the family ended up at a U.S. air base in Germany for eight days and nights, where struggles continued with food, restrooms and shower opportunities. From Germany, Adam and his family arrived at Fort Beckett, Virginia, where they were processed.
During processing, Afghans go through medical screenings, including testing for COVID-19, receiving vaccinations, applying for immigration status, and more as coordinated by the U.S. State Department.
While in Virginia, Adam and his family shared housing space with several other families who were also there, and many were without documentation.
“All the night, I’d wake up to protect my family,” Adam said.
Light of hope
Finally, after a month in Virginia, they received word that they would head to their final destination of Nashville, where they met with Catholic Charities at the airport on Thursday, Sept. 30.
When an Afghan family arrives in Nashville, Catholic Charities helps the family establish housing, furnishes it, gets their Social Security cards, helps get the children enrolled in school and follows up on any medical or mental health needs in hopes of also quickly securing them employment.
“We are so happy that they are helping us,” Adam said of Catholic Charities.
Additionally, Adam’s brother, who has lived in Nashville since 2011, has also helped get the family settled by taking care of clothing, food and psychological support.
But things are not smooth sailing yet as they wait for healthcare, food stamps and education opportunities.
“I know the process takes time, and Catholic Charities is helping with that,” Adam said.
Additionally, Adam’s work as an interpreter with the U.S. Embassy was not documented as it should have been by the Department of Homeland Security, which means he doesn’t have the papers he needs to secure employment.
“That was not fair for me,” he said. “I served three years. That should be documented.”
They also still live in fear for the safety of their family back in Kabul.
“We can’t sleep at night because of what happened,” Adam’s wife said. “We wonder, ‘what do they need? What will happen in the future for them?’ It is a big problem for us.”
But Adam and his family remain hopeful and grateful to be in a safe place.
“We hope to live happily and have everything we need soon,” Adam’s wife said, including schooling opportunities for all three of them.
In particular, Adam said he hopes to study anthropology, which will help him in his dream career.
“My hope for my future in America is to serve as I served before,” Adam said. “I want to serve for the government because the government can help Afghanistan; the government can help my people.”
To learn how to help Catholic Charities in Afghan resettlement, visit cctenn.org, or donate to the recently launched Welcoming Nashville Fund at https://www.unitedwaygreaternashville.org/welcoming-nashville-fund/.