There is almost no furniture yet in Afghan evacuee Abdul Aman Sediqi and his young family’s new apartment in Houston, Texas.
But as his two sons, Edris and Elyan play on the bare floor, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipient Sediqi said on Thursday (August 26) he’s grateful at the chance to make a fresh start after the Taliban takeover of his native Afghanistan.
Sediqi said he did perilous work in mine clearance with American Special Forces.
“I cleared mines, we would go on main roads, small villages, paths, streets. If there were night operations, we would go to that too,” he said.
“We would de-mine houses. We also carried weapons and if there was ever an attack we would fight too,” he added.
Thousands of Afghans have arrived in the United States since the hurried evacuation of Afghanistan began in mid-August, including many who helped U.S. forces during its 20-year involvement in the country’s war.
SIV’s are available to Afghan’s like Sediqi who aided U.S. forces and who fear reprisals by the Taliban, the Islamist militant group that swiftly seized power 12 days ago.
Sediqi, 36, his wife Mah Rokh and their two young boys had stamped, valid visas and were ready to travel to the U.S. when the Taliban unexpectedly took over the Afghan capital.
“We went to the airport and it was shut, they weren’t allowing anybody to enter. We turned back,” he said.
They finally did get a ticket on a few days later, and were flown out first to Qatar, then on to Dulles airport in Virginia, and finally made it to Houston on August 23rd.
The family chose Houston because Sediqi has a friend from his home province there, and who told him there are plenty of jobs available.
But as relieved as they are to have made it to the U.S. safely, and hopeful of a “good future”, leaving Afghanistan is hard, Sediqi said.
“It’s very troubling and saddening to leave behind a life that you built for yourself over 20 years,” he said.
It’s especially hard, he said, because much of his family and many of his colleagues who worked with U.S. Special Forces are still in Afghanistan and possibly in danger from the Taliban.
An estimated 5,000 SIV applicants have already been evacuated from Afghanistan, according to a report released on Wednesday (August 25) by the Association of Wartime Allies, a group advocating for SIV applicants in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The group estimates that 65,000 SIV applicants and family members remain in Afghanistan.
But as they settle into a new apartment in a new country, Sediqi said he and his family are optimistic.
“We feel happy being in America, we feel we have full safety here. We have a secure future ahead of us, a happy one,” he said.
(Production: Callaghan O’Hare; Pari Zemaryalai; Kevin Fogarty; Ashraf Fahim)