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The Washington Post

At Dulles, an Afghan household reunites a yr after Kabul airport assault


Afghan siblings waited 13 months to look at their father and brother be part of them in Northern Virginia

Masi Stanekzai embraces his younger brother Faisal at Dulles International Airport on Monday.
Masi Stanekzai embraces his youthful brother Faisal at Dulles Worldwide Airport on Monday. (Valerie Plesch for The Washington Submit)

Mina Stanekzai stared on the households fortunately greeting one another contained in the Dulles Airport terminal, a few of them holding flowers and balloons bearing “Welcome Residence!” messages.

It had been greater than a yr since she had seen her father and oldest brother, the day a suicide bomb killed her mom exterior the airport in Kabul — sending Mina, 8, and her different brother Faisal, 14, on a journey to Northern Virginia to dwell with their aunt, Ferishta, as they recovered from accidents brought on by the explosion.

Now, the kids’s father, Wali, and older brother, Masi, 16, had been on account of arrive. Two hours after their aircraft landed Monday, they’d not come by the safety gate and weren’t responding to textual content messages.

Mina’s initially cheerful demeanor was once more darkening, the purple velvet hair band she had placed on that afternoon to impress her father showing crooked and able to fall off.

“My dad is just not coming, why you do this to me?” she mentioned to her aunt in English, after Ferishta had noticed a bunch of Afghans coming into the luggage declare space and instructed that Wali and Masi weren’t far behind.

Mina had spiraled into anger and despair because the bomb on the Kabul airport wall modified all the things. The explosion, set because the Taliban retook energy final summer time, killed 13 U.S. service members and not less than 170 Afghans — a tragedy broadcast all over the world.

Mina and Faisal wouldn’t be taught of their mom’s demise till a number of months after they joined Ferishta in Alexandria, a revelation that occurred by chance. The truth that their father and brother had been nonetheless hiding in Kabul made it even worse.

Regardless of changing into extra acclimated to their American life, now simply talking English and thriving at school, the lady’s mood tantrums at house had been intensifying.

As soon as, throughout an argument with Faisal over what to look at on TV, she threw a toy into the display, shattering it. Different occasions, she would blame her aunt for her mom’s demise, insisting Ferishta may have helped from Alexandria.

After so many matches and begins, it was exhausting to belief that at the present time was actual. The constellation of efforts that had introduced them thus far was outstanding — one in all hundreds of tales of households combating their approach out lengthy after the battle had ended. Many stay.

However retired U.S. Air Drive Lt. Gen. John Bradley — a buddy of Ferishta’s who helped the household throughout their preliminary escape — had dedicated himself to making sure this second.

“I’ve spent lots of time on it,” the previous chief of the Air Drive Reserve mentioned in March, sounding exhausted. “I work on it each day. Give it some thought each day.”

Afghan siblings, wounded in Kabul airport bombing, seek new life in Northern Virginia

Wali and Masi ranked behind lots of of others the U.S. authorities was still trying to get out after the Taliban started in September 2021 permitting industrial flights out of Kabul.

Prime precedence went to Americans and their rapid members of the family, the State division advised The Washington Submit. After them had been authorized everlasting U.S. residents and members of the family of American service members.

The Stanekzais had been among the many lots of of instances of Afghan households separated throughout the Kabul airport chaos.

On paper, they had been simply forward of the hundreds of former Afghan interpreters and former contract staff who helped within the U.S. battle effort and qualify for particular immigrant visas. However lots of these visa recipients had been already being flown to the US.

Bradley labored with well mannered insistency to get the State Division to deal with the household’s case with extra urgency.

“We very a lot wish to reunite the daddy and son with the daddy’s two young children now in Alexandria, Virginia,” he wrote to a State Division official in a November electronic mail shared with The Washington Submit. “Shedding their mom was a traumatic expertise.”

It was in November, after months of evasion on the subject, that Mina realized of her mom’s passing — by stumbling upon photographs of Zakya’s physique dressed for her funeral in Kabul that had been despatched to Ferishta’s smartphone.

Throughout a cellphone name that day, Wali let the awkward apology to his indignant, grieving daughter tumble out of his mouth, figuring out the phrases had been hole.

He tried to clarify to Mina that he was attempting to spare her and Faisal extra anguish when he requested Ferishta to not inform them about their mom’s demise.

“My plan was to inform you once I get there,” Wali, who spoke by an interpreter, recalled saying as his daughter listened in stony silence.

In actuality, he may now not see that day occurring.

For a number of months, Wali and Masi lived in a single room on the crowded Kabul house of a household who had agreed to secretly take them in.

Father and son misplaced all their paperwork within the bomb blast and, with out IDs, felt caught.

They had been unwilling to enterprise into the town, the place Taliban officers who would possibly know that Zakya labored for a U.S. authorities contractor in Kabul earlier than she died would possibly resolve to punish them for it.

Masi grieved for his mom, holding near him the small black purse she carried the day of the airport bombing that was retrieved alongside along with her physique.

Telephone calls along with his youthful brother and sister — throughout which they shared particulars about their new lives in Northern Virginia — had been painful reminders that he was left behind, now not capable of go to highschool.

“I’ve misplaced hope,” Masi advised Ferishta.

From his house in Nashville, Bradley continued to foyer State Division officers and recruited different individuals with affect, together with a number of present and former members of Congress, to do the identical — a mission pushed partially by his guilt over sending the household to the airport that day with a letter meant to assist them escape.

The workplace of Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and former senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) had been quickly serving to. So had been others, together with the workplace of Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), who joined the hassle after Bradley’s daughter, Leigh Ann Kosmas, wrote concerning the Stanekzais on Fb. A buddy from highschool now married to one of many congressman’s prime workers members learn her message.

That turned out to be a stroke of luck.

In December, after a cellphone name between Scott and A. Elizabeth Jones, the newly appointed State Division coordinator for Afghan relocation efforts, a senior State Division official assured Bradley that the company would work to get Wali and Masi on a flight out of Afghanistan.

“They. Will. Be. Manifested,” Bradley recalled her saying in a cellphone name concerning the flight manifest lists of outbound Afghan passengers stored by the State Division.

By then, Afghan authorities places of work had been partially functioning.

At Ferishta’s urging, Wali and Masi ventured to a authorities administrative workplace within the now emptier metropolis to acquire new Afghan id playing cards, which they did with out incident.

The passports can be trickier as a result of the Taliban was primarily issuing these to individuals in want of medical consideration overseas.

Bradley wired $1,000 to a buddy of Wali’s that might be used to influence a health care provider to write down a letter stating that Masi’s despair required psychological remedy in Pakistan. The cash would even be used to prod Afghan civil servants to expedite the paperwork.

However the nation nonetheless heaved with violence.

In December, Taliban safety fatally shot a lady who was attempting to detonate a bomb on the entrance of the executive workplace issuing passports, the place a number of hundred individuals waited to get inside.

A couple of days after that incident, Wali and Masi headed there, arriving at 2 a.m. in hopes of getting a great place in line when the workplace opened.

A number of hundred individuals had been already forward of them they usually had been turned away. The identical factor occurred the next day.

On the third attempt, they obtained inside.

Afghan refugees struggling with rent after running out of aid

With their passports in hand, the equipment for a departure was in movement. A State Division contractor put Wali and Masi up in a lodge at an undisclosed web site in Kabul with different Afghans anxious to go away.

Then, all the things sputtered to a halt. A dispute between the Taliban and Qatari authorities — which dealt with logistics on the Kabul airport — stored all worldwide flights from leaving Afghanistan.

Lastly, in mid-April, got here phrase that they’d be leaving the next day.

“I can’t imagine that is occurring,” Masi advised Ferishta in a cellphone name, alternately crying and laughing.

In Alexandria, Mina danced round their condominium, working from room to room in giddy pleasure.

That night time, Wali and Masi made a short journey to Zakya’s grave, the place they prayed and mentioned goodbye.

On the bus, Masi stared on the comparatively empty airport grounds, swallowing the worry and pleasure that took turns assaulting his stomach.

He considered the bombing that ripped aside his household, happy that he had remembered to pack his mom’s purse so she may in a roundabout way be with them in Northern Virginia.

“All the things was in entrance of my eyes,” Masi mentioned by an interpreter, recalling the location the place Zakya died and the place he wandered round in naked ft within the smoky aftermath that night time looking for his household.

On the terminal entrance, a gate agent paused whereas reviewing Wali’s paperwork and declared that the spelling of his identify on the ticket didn’t match what was on his passport.

“It’s important to come again tomorrow,” the agent mentioned, suggesting Wali get a brand new ticket.

Wali’s coronary heart dropped. However because of a flight delay, the State Division contractor had sufficient time to right the error, permitting them to soundly board.

Amid the confusion, nonetheless, their baggage by no means made it on the aircraft. Inside one suitcase, now misplaced for good, was Zakya’s black purse.

Authorities forms and the truth that lots of of different refugees had been being processed to enter the US had stored Wali and Masi inside a refugee camp for 5 months.

The wait gnawed at Mina and, when advised the day of their arrival had lastly come, she was incredulous.

At Dulles Airport, she distracted herself with a toy digicam, taking foolish photos of Emran Ibrahimi, a household buddy who was additionally there throughout the Kabul explosion and wound up chaperoning the kids on their journey to the US.

Two hours after the flight landed, the toy digicam had been put away. Mina briefly stood vigil on the safety gate and, when it seemed like all of the passengers had come by, gave up.

“I feel they’d the fallacious flight,” she advised her aunt in English.

Then, all of a sudden, there they had been.

“Hey, hiya!” Mina shouted in Dari, hopping with laughter, whereas Ferishta held Wali in a decent embrace.

“I can’t imagine you’re right here,” she advised her brother by tears.

Faisal — who had grown quiet throughout his time in the US — melted into Masi’s grasp, holding his hand and beaming.

Bradley, who had flown from Tennessee for the reunion, was hoarse, sharing his reduction many times.

“I really feel answerable for Zakya’s demise on a sure degree,” he mentioned as everybody climbed right into a shuttle van that will take them to Ferishta’s two-bedroom condominium in Alexandria. “We needed to get this drawback solved.”

Contained in the condominium, festive balloons and a bounty of Afghan meals awaited whereas associates arrived to have fun, together with Aleena Turekian, 13, a D.C. pupil who created an online book club for Afghan refugees that turned a supply of consolation for Mina and Masi.

As a jet-lagged Wali and Masi took all of it in, the scene resembled a vacation gathering, minus a departed beloved one. Ferishta scurried round to ensure everybody was consuming whereas the others talked over each other, buying and selling tales concerning the previous yr.

Mina bounced round the lounge. Her ninth birthday, in early October, was approaching. This time, her father and brother can be there to assist have fun as all of them constructed a brand new life collectively.

Because the chatter continued, she started taking part in with one of many social gathering balloons, tapping it, volleyball type, because it floated from individual to individual with specks of gold glitter inside twinkling within the gentle.

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