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U.S. Embassy employee left behind in Afghanistan gets to America
EXCLUSIVE: The SIV hiding from the Taliban is now safe in Virginia
For the past year, I’ve been reporting on an Afghan man who had worked in the U.S. Embassy visa consular office in Kabul and was left behind during Pres. Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bakdash* was forced into hiding from the Taliban.
Now, I have happy news to report. He has made it to America.
“Emily, I am speaking to you now in the same time zone and the same area and in safety,” said Bakdash when we spoke on the phone for the first time since he landed at Dulles.
“A year ago, I couldn't get into Kabul airport to escape– I tried two times,” he said. “I’m so happy now that I’m safe and secure.”
He is in the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) with his pregnant wife. They are living with his cousin in Alexandria, Virginia.
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Hiding from Taliban
When I last reported about him in February, the U.S. rescue flights from Afghanistan had restarted, but he was not given a seat. Bakdash and his wife were hiding from the Taliban because of his front office job for America.
“When Kabul fell — just imagine you’re a U.S. Embassy employee and the Taliban is now in power,” he explained.
“I was at high risk because I was easily recognized as working for the Americans. We lived separately from my family and stayed away from my mom’s house.”
At the beginning of the year, Bakdash requested that the State Department transfer his case to the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan. He needed to do an interview for the 12-step SIV process but that is impossible in Afghanistan because the U.S. no longer has an embassy there.
Path to America
Over the next few months, he said he traveled twice to Pakistan to get his interview and medical exam at the embassy in Islamabad. Bakdash went for one week the first time and for a month the second time.
He said it cost him $10,000 total to cross the border twice and stay long enough to meet all the visa requirements.
Read about Arash, the other former U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan official I’ve been reporting on this past year, in this story. Arash also paid his way into Pakistan but unfortunately, he is stuck in a refugee camp and can’t get his P-1 visa processed.
Bakdash persisted in Pakistan and got his SIV. But then he had to find a way to America.
The U.S. doesn’t provide transportation for these visa holders from Afghanistan. An administration source told me they can’t financially support travel on KamAir because of its Iranian connections and related US sanctions.
Bakdash said he spent a total $4,500 for two airline tickets to get to America. They flew on KamAir from Kabul to Pakistan. Then he changed airlines and flew to Turkey and finally to Dulles Airport.
Afghan refugee in America
Bakdash chose Virginia because he has a cousin who is supporting all of them in a two-bedroom apartment. He told me he just got his driver’s license. He thinks the fastest way to get work would be to do delivery.
“Being in the U.S. without an income is difficult. If my cousin wasn’t here, I would live on the streets,” he said. “I just need a car, and then I can work and pay my bills. I need a job to stand on my feet to pay my bills.”
Since he’s been here, he’s been applying for help from the various nonprofits and government agencies helping Afghan refugees get settled. He kept getting rejected.
But today he got a call from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service which gave him the “green light” for short-term support. He said the organization will help him find a job and pay his rent for up to three months. Bakdash sounded relieved and happy on the phone from getting this break.
“When you leave your home country, it’s so difficult. You give up your family, your country,” he said. “But there is nothing more important than your life.”
The State Department’s Reception and Placement Program is supposed to provide basic living assistance and limited support for up to the first 30 to 90 days after SIV arrive in the U.S. A State Department spokesman did not respond to questions about the program by press time.
One year later:
This is the text that I first got from Bakdash last year after he has emailed me:
And this is the exciting text I got in July:
Pres. Biden promised on Aug. 31, 2021 that after the withdrawal, the U.S. would continue “diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.”
In Bakdash’s case, the U.S. government did not give him a “safe passage” out of Afghanistan. He did that all on his own.
It’s shameful that America knowingly left behind the Afghans who worked beside our military and diplomats. But it’s excellent news that the State Department is processing visas so those we left behind to live in terror for being our allies are finally getting to safety in America.
*Bakdash is not his real name. He gave me all his identifying documents, which I gave to State Department officials. He asked me to continue to keep his identity confidential for the safety of his family back in Afghanistan who supported the U.S. mission.