Several Afghan families have now resettled in Manhattan, seeking a fresh start, after instability grew in Afghanistan last summer amid US forces pulling out of the area.
Among those now residing in Manhattan is Idrees Khalil, who, along with her family of six, is one of nine families to have been resettled to a Manhattan neighborhood in the past two weeks, thanks to support from the Manhattan Afghan Resettlement. Team (MART). They have been in the Manhattan area for a few months now. Khalil says he initially planted his roots in his home country, but noted things took an abrupt turn last August.
“I had a dream for me, for my children and for my entire community. But the situation got worse and I decided to leave Afghanistan,” he said.
Khalil had regularly received security, political and social updates, working as a legal representative for a project funded by the Ministry of Defense. His work included obtaining work permits, managing visa and export license renewals for a DoD contractor
As tensions escalated, with the Taliban waging a new campaign of direct assaults on major cities, Khalil knew he had to get his family out of the country.
But that proved difficult as thousands began to flee and security conditions deteriorated. Khalil remembers the day they finally reached Kabul airport.
“A few meters (away) a suicide bomber killed around 200 people, including members of the US military. The effect of this attack still exists in my mind and that of my family. But luckily we managed to get into the airport and were warmly welcomed by US military and other personnel,” he said.
Once out of Afghanistan, Khalil’s family spent four days in Qatar, before being brought to Germany and finally to Virginia, where he spent four months trying to resettle. He was able to get in touch with Matiullah Shinwari, a Pashto interpreter living in Manhattan. Shinwari is a longtime colleague and friend of Manhattan Housing Authority Executive Director Aaron Estabrook. Shinwari was Estabrook’s interpreter while serving as a US Army sergeant in Kandahar province in 2009.
Khalil says he appreciates the support his family has received since arriving in Manhattan.
“So I’m lucky and I have a lot of hope that one day we will also be part of this community. We want to be a strong member of this community and do something for the community. The community gave us a lot of things, now it’s our responsibility to do certain things,” he said.
Khalil’s two children are enrolled in Lee Elementary School. Khalil adds that as the days go by, the family feels more and more comfortable in their new environment.
“I’m lucky to have landed in Manhattan and will see my children’s future brighten as they go to a good quality school. This is a good thing. I love the city, I love the people and I say God bless you Manhattan,” he said.
MART is currently connected to 111 Afghan families in Manhattan, including 67 children and 44 adults. Two more families will be moved into permanent accommodation over the next month.
There are still many ways for the community to support these families. Estabrook says primary needs include legal support for immigration paperwork. Allies have worked with military personnel overseas, and Estabrook says any way to streamline the process to get them on the path to citizenship is appreciated. Many of these Afghan families need help with transportation and so Estabrook says MART is looking for partnerships to land some of these families in vehicles.
“Transportation is difficult. If you’re listening and your kid has graduated, but you still have their car, maybe you can get us a good deal on that car that’s done 80,000 or 120,000 miles. We will make good use of it with some Afghans who transport their children to appointments and to school,” he said.
To donate or learn more about the MART program here in Manhattan, visit allieswelcome.com. Khalil was our featured guest on KMAN’s In Focus on Thursday, March 10. You can hear his interview segment below.
0310 MHA 2
You can read more about Khalil’s personal wrestling story below.
Story of a personal struggle – Mohammad Idrees_edits