Afghan refugees fled the Taliban to build a new life in Greenwich had to leave behind: ‘I had to escape’

GREENWICH — Fearing torture and death at the hands of the Taliban, two Afghan men had to make a heartbreaking plea: to leave the country, even if it meant leaving their wives and children behind.

The chaos and tragedy of the fall of the Afghan government last summer, when the United States withdrew its troops and the Taliban took over, fascinated the world.

The United States has opened its doors to welcome refugees from the war-torn country. It’s a particularly meaningful welcome for brothers-in-law Hafizullah Hamid and Khasrow Sakhra, who fled Afghanistan after receiving death threats and are trying to create new lives with the help of the Greenwich nonprofit Jewish Family. Services.

Both men said they dreamed of the day when they could reunite with the children and women they had to leave behind.

Hamid has three sons and two daughters. His wife and three of his children couldn’t go out with him, but he got away with two of his sons. Sakhra had to leave his wife and two sons in Afghanistan because there was no way to take them, he said.

Hamid worked as a tailor, having given up a job as a policeman after his life was repeatedly threatened by the Taliban after the group regained power in 2021. Sakhra worked with the Afghan army in the government as a Corps Administration Officer. Command, a position that put him in danger when the government fell.

“When the Taliban came, I left Baghlan province,” Hamid said, speaking through an interpreter. “It was very dangerous and the Taliban had a great influence there. I was able to get out of there with my two children. It was an opportunity I had because the Taliban were killing the army and the police. My life was threatened and it was the only opportunity I had to escape with my two sons.

A week before the government collapsed, Sakhra recalled, the Taliban went on the offensive.

“They were looking for anyone involved in the military, even people who cooked for them,” said Sakhra, who also spoke through an interpreter. “They were captured by the Taliban and tortured. I was hiding away from my family because I didn’t want to have my wife and children with me because I risked being arrested by the Taliban and tortured. I didn’t want my wife captured.

“If I was captured I could be tortured, but I didn’t want that to happen to my wife,” he said. “I had the opportunity to get on the plane and walk out.”

Jewish Family Services CEO Rachel Kornfeld said there were nine Afghan refugees in Greenwich, including Hamid and Sakhra. There are currently 24 Afghan refugees in Stamford, including a newborn, and 10 in East Hartford.

Kornfeld said the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society originally asked JFS to help address the humanitarian crisis by becoming a temporary resettlement agency under the authorization of the Afghan Job Placement Program.

Although this is not a new responsibility for JFS, which had worked in the 1990s and early 2000s to help resettle refugees from Russia, it had been nearly 20 years since they had not been involved in the resettlement. And they had less than a month to step up their efforts.

“It wasn’t easy at all, but it was mostly because of the time frame,” Kornfeld said. “We had three weeks to get the program up and running, including staffing.”

Services provided by JFS include helping refugees find housing and employment. Sakhra and Hamid currently work in restaurants – Sakhra in Stamford and Hamid in Norwalk – but those jobs are temporary. Kornfeld said the organization is working to offer the brothers-in-law something more long-term.

The federal government pays for 90 days of case management services for all Afghan refugees in the country, Kornfeld said, though JFS, as a social services agency, has no such limit on its efforts.

JFS has already helped Hamid send his two sons, ages 13 and 16, to school at Stamford, Kornfeld said.

“The state of Connecticut has been amazing,” she said. “Governor Lamont has declared this to be a welcoming state and has set aside funds specifically for Afghan evacuees.

“They’ve been great at the state level organizing to help us provide more. We have 90 day programs. We have programs that last six months. We have year-long programs—all of which are geared toward self-sufficiency. … These jobs they have now are just the first step. We want them to have long-term jobs that they really feel good about and can excel at.

JFS also helps with the complicated process of asylum documents for family members left behind. Kornfeld credited Community Centers Inc. with helping JFS provide legal services. JFS is in contact with a federal organization that is also helping, she said.

“If there’s a possibility that we’ll help in any way, it will be done,” Kornfeld said. “When they first arrived we weren’t seeing a lot of solutions (to help get their families out as well), but now we’re starting to see solutions.”

The men are in contact with their families and know they are safe for now, they said, but the separation weighs heavily on them.

“It’s very difficult and very hard for a person who is not with his family,” Sakhra said. “Especially because our families are in Afghanistan and the security is not good. Because I worked in the army, there are a lot of challenges for my family there. It’s not easy to be separated from your family.

The road to Greenwich — and to bring the rest of their families to Connecticut — has been complicated.

“We have just started filling out the asylum papers,” Hamid said. “We want our family to be here as soon as possible. Right now we are physically here, but our spirits and thoughts are back with our families. We are very concerned about them. We want them here.

Both men and Hamid’s two sons left Afghanistan in August. They first landed in Qatar and then Germany before arriving in the United States in mid-October. Their first stop was in Pennsylvania, where they remained until the end of the year. Thanks to JFS, the two arrived in Greenwich in January. They are, to date, the last refugees from Afghanistan who have been able to resettle in Greenwich, Kornfeld said.

“We are very happy to be in America, the land of culture and the land of knowledge,” Hamid said. “I am grateful for all the help we have received from so many people.”

But fleeing Afghanistan also means starting over in a new culture with a language barrier. For this, the two men say they are lucky to have been welcomed with such kindness in Greenwich.

“There are such welcoming and tolerant people here,” Hamid said. “We are new here. We just embrace this society and the environment and we are promised that we will have good jobs in the future and we will have a better future.

After seeing the war in Afghanistan for much of his life, Sakhra said he was happy to be in a land of peace.

“I hope for a bright future here for my wife and children here,” Sakhra said.

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