This is the second story in a series in which Deseret News explores the experiences of refugees who have fled Afghanistan and resettled in Utah.
Abdul rarely sleeps more than five hours every night. At midnight, he walks into the hallway of his home in Herriman in the hope that his phone will light up with a WhatsApp message from his wife, who is locked up in an apartment in Kabul.
Even those nights when he does not expect a message, he can not sleep. A combination of anger, guilt and fear makes his mind run into tomorrow. He is angry that the countless politicians, bureaucrats and activists he has contacted cannot help him. Guilt because he blames himself for his wife’s situation. And afraid that something might happen to her.
“I served for the US government. My service now puts my family at extreme risk and their lives are in danger. My wife is in danger. If something happened to them, how can I forgive myself? What should I do? “What is my answer to my family?”
Because Abdul still has family in Afghanistan, Deseret News withholds his last name and his wife’s name.
Abdul, a member of the Hazara minority, grew up in Afghanistan’s Ghazni district and found a job in Kabul, where he worked for the U.S. government as a contractor accused of buying fuel to keep the generators at U.S. military bases running. In 2014, his father established an arranged marriage with a woman living on his street.
Abdul knew the woman, bought a ring and planned to marry her. But one day he came home to see that the window of his home was broken and the glass was lying on the floor. Inside, there was a shaky dull note from the Taliban – if you continue to work with the Americans, we’ll kill you.
“I left my unit. I changed my address. Then I asked my boss, ‘Help me,'” Abdul said.
He received a special immigrant visa and moved to Salt Lake City within a few months. He brought the wedding ring.
Abdul felt at home in Utah. He eventually gained citizenship and found work at a factory that manufactured lights and light fixtures. He wanted to return to Afghanistan on a regular basis and married in 2018 his wife in Kabul. “Even though it was an arranged marriage, I knew after four years that she was the one.”
As soon as they got married, his bride submitted an application for a green card with the hope of resettling in Utah with Abdul.
But the process dragged on. A marriage green card typically takes about 10 to 12 months to be accepted, but some immigration groups say it can be delayed for years.
He flew to Kabul in June to see his family and wife, and by July, her application had been approved. But a mountain of paperwork still stood between them. She had to submit a U.S. address, submit follow-up applications, and Abdul had to show supporting documents – all the steps the couple would immediately take, and then wait weeks for a response from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Summer progressed and Abdul became concerned. He wanted to go on Facebook and see news that the Taliban were sweeping into the landscape and getting closer to Kabul every day while the United States accelerated its withdrawal.
Then came August 15, and Abdul and the rest of the world watched as the Taliban drove into Kabul, prompting a hectic rush to the city’s airport. His wife’s green card was still hung on one last step from the civil and immigration services – Abdul believed that the soldiers guarding the gate would not let her through without the proper documentation.
On August 25, she heard back from the United States. Her green card was approved. Abdul called his brother in Kabul, who also worked for the United States “I said, ‘Brother, take my wife, pack up, get some water, get some food, go to the airport.’
They returned home that night, with no luck. Abdul maintains that both the Taliban and Afghan soldiers deliberately rejected them because they recognized them as Hazara.
This is something that numerous other Hazara refugees have told the Deseret News. The Hazaras have been subjected to centuries of abuse, which includes many cases of documented ethnic cleansing and systemic discrimination. Abdul says he spoke to a family who recently arrived in Utah who were turned away at the gates by Afghan soldiers and told them “it’s because you are Hazara.”
The next day, Abdul asked his wife and brother to return to the airport. He did not sleep at all that night and sent messages to his wife and brother every minute. “I just kept texting, ‘Where are you? Send me pictures. Where are you? Where are you?'”
One of them would respond within seconds, maybe a minute. But when he asked for an update around noon. 6:20, a minute passed without a response. Then five minutes. So 10. Abdul logged on to Facebook and saw a post from a friend in Kabul claiming there was a bomb attack at the airport.
“The 10 minutes, it was like 10 years for me,” he said.
Eventually, his wife’s number lit up the screen of his phone – “There was a bomb blast.”
“I asked her, ‘Are you okay?'”
“How far away?”
“Not so much.”
“OK, where are you?”
“We’re still here.”
“Just go home,” I said to my wife. “Just go home.”
“It was like a nightmare,” Abdul says of the day. It was he who had asked his wife and brother to go to the airport. “If anything happened to my wife and brother … I would never forgive myself.”
They once again tried to go to the airport, and despite the fact that they both showed Afghan soldiers their real documents, they were rejected. They did not try to get into the airport again.
Abdul was not sure what to do. His first thought was to tell his wife and brother to leave Kabul and find a way into Pakistan. But stories that Hazara was hit by a brave Taliban made the trip too risky, especially considering that his wife and brother would need their documents to enter Pakistan – documents proving their connection to the United States. Abdul himself considered booking a flight to Pakistan, which left possibly. documentation that could indicate his American ties before crossing the border. Without his passport, he could smuggle his wife and brother through eastern Afghanistan. But it was too dangerous.
“If I go to Pakistan and then cross the border … what’s going to happen to me? Honestly, I do not care about myself, but I think, ‘If I bring her to the border, what’s going to happen?'” He said. he.
So Abdul has resorted to calling people and knocking. He called the offices of Utah Representatives Chris Stewart and John Curtis, Senator Mitt Romney, California politicians, activist groups, NGOs and former U.S. special forces. He has been trying to organize a flight out of Kabul airport. He has been trying to raise money.
“I have no voice,” he says.
Abdul is tired and he is losing hope. He used to be able to complete eight light fixtures in a single day at his job, now he can barely complete one. He skips breakfast, lunch and sometimes eats dinner. “All this is just getting worse and worse,” he said.
He talks to his wife every day. He tells her to delete her number after they talk and to delete Facebook or WhatsApp messages. “Just remember my phone number,” he tells her. She is tired too, but she reassures him.
“When she gets a chance, she calls me and talks to me. She’s with me all the time, by my side. Even though she’s not with me, emotionally, she’s with me all the time.”