Kabul airport attack jeopardizes evacuation of Rochester-bound Afghans 

Walid Omid Habibi (center) served as a translator to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, and is now working to evacuate his family from Kabul. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY WALID OMID HABIBI
  • Walid Omid Habibi (center) served as a translator to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, and is now working to evacuate his family from Kabul.
A deadly attack outside Kabul airport in Afghanistan on Thursday disrupted evacuations of thousands of people seeking to escape after the Taliban takeover. The families of local Afghan residents were among them.

For 24 hours, Walid Omid Habibi, a former translator who helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan and now lives in Rochester, had been on his phone communicating with his mother, wife, and three daughters. Since Wednesday, they had been outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul waiting to evacuate.

“(For the) last 24 hours, I was awake. I didn't sleep. I was just busy communicating with my family through the phone and virtual platforms.” Habibi said.

“I'm speechless to explain what I'm feeling right now," he said. "You know, my wife, my three children, my mother are (in hell) right now. Right now. I am here, very far away from them. I cannot do anything for them. The only thing that I can do is the phone call. I'm just talking with them. Nothing else.”

Habibi and his father were approved to come to the U.S. in February under Special Immigrant Visas (SIV). However, it wasn’t until last week that the Habibi women and girls left behind in Kabul were granted an emergency visa to evacuate.

“For people like my mother, who is wheelchair-dependent, and my wife and three children, it is not easy to get into the Kabul airport," he said. "Because there are lots of people over there, there’s lots of gunfire and lots of violence.”

Habibi said his family was unharmed in Thursday's bombings and gunfire and managed to get back to their house in Kabul safely, but at this point, he doesn’t see the airport as a way out for them anymore.

“They have also tried before, two times, to just go over there to get in the Kabul airport, but for women, for children in that crowded situation, it’s almost impossible," he said.

click to enlarge Walid Omid Habibi. - PHOTO PROVIDED BY WALID OMID HABIBI
  • Walid Omid Habibi.
For them, staying is not an option. Women’s basic human rights are in question in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover. On Tuesday, a Taliban spokesperson issued a statement advising women to stay home from work as a “temporary” policy until Taliban militants are trained not to hurt them.

Like Habibi, an Afghan woman named Obaida is desperately trying to bring her family in Rochester. We're not using her last name because she fears repercussions for her family still in Afghanistan.

Her immediate family, including her sister, are still in Kabul.

“I've been trying, you know, applying for humanitarian parole, contacting my Congress office for my sister as well to get them out," she said. "And you know, even my sister-in-law says, ‘I can't leave home.’ But with the situation right now, they have no choice.”

Obaida’s nephew and his family had been waiting outside the airport for two days before the blast on Thursday. When she spoke with WXXI, she had not heard from them since the bombing.

“I just want my family to be safe,” she said. “I’m just pleading for help from our government officials to get them out. I hope that they come up with alternative routes to get them out.”

The deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is less than a week away. Obaida is worried that if evacuations end because of the attack, her family will be trapped indefinitely.

Noelle Evans is a reporter for WXXI, a media partner of CITY.
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