Advocate on situation in Afghanistan: ‘This is exactly like the fall of Saigon’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The crisis is turning into a painful ordeal for Afghan families in Rochester with relatives stuck back in Afghanistan.

“We are waiting,” said Walid Omid Habib, who worked with U.S. and international groups in Afghanistan and is now in Rochester. “All the day and night we are following the news and we are just praying for them. All we can do is pray and hope."

Advocates and U.S. veterans have been trying to get Afghan friends flights out of the country and, very importantly, the paperwork they need to come to the U.S. It could be a matter of life and death.

For weeks, U.S. officials and troops have been raising the alarm that Afghans who helped them and trusted them, could be in danger of reprisals.

Advocates are also scrambling to get visas for other Afghans under threat of death so they can escape to America.

Abdul Majid Habibi, a former cultural advisor, and his son, Walid, have been watching the news, terrified, but not surprised.

Images of chaos at the Kabul airport where crowds of Afghans swarmed U.S. planes and some tried to hold on to a jet on takeoff, then fell to their deaths, were demoralizing.

"They are killing the interpreters and families," Abdul said. “When I was working with United States advisers, I received, many times, threats from the Taliban."

The two of them just managed to flee to Rochester this past winter as they saw the situation in Afghanistan crumbling and expected they’d become targets for the Taliban.

As a former cultural advisor who worked with the U.S. forces, Abdul was eligible for a Special Immigrant Visa, (SIV) to come to America and Walid, who worked as a liaison with the Americans and international groups, could come too. But their wives and Walid’s three small children are still trapped in Kabul.

"Not only those people have worked with the Americans directly, their families are also in danger,” Walid said. “We are here, we are safe but still, our family, my wife, my three children, my mother they are over there in Afghanistan."

Organizations like Keeping Our Promise of Rochester are appealing to Washington to get more SIVs for thousands of Afghans who worked with the previous government or with the U.S. and are now in danger.

"What did we see today [Monday]?” said Ellen Smith with Keeping Our Promise. “People hanging from airplanes and dropping to their ground and calling to their deaths, desperate to get out. This is exactly like the fall of Saigon, and it’s probably worse."

"We are physically here,” Abdul said. “But mentally, we are not here. All my focus is on my family, there in Kabul, Afghanistan."

Keeping our Promise advocates have been frantically contacting the state department and congressional representatives like Rochester-area Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY 25) to get some action on SIVs for the families of Afghans with U.S. connections, but they say they aren’t sure they’re making any progress, and time could run out fast if the Taliban starts reprisals.