Afghan man who resettled in Northeast Ohio speaks of devastating impact of US military withdrawal

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AKRON, Ohio (WJW)- The dire situation in Afghanistan is heartbreaking to monitor for members of the local Afghan community.

For one man in the U.S. on a Special Immigrant Visa, everything changed in what felt like a moment. He requested that FOX 8 conceal his identity to protect his family from the Taliban.

“It’s a very devastating moment of our lives,” he said. “They are also scared. They are on the ground there and experiencing it every day. I told them not to go outside, don’t contact anyone especially. I’m here and they know I worked with the US government. That’s why they are in danger.”

He arrived in the U.S. in 2017 after working with the American government to help teach members of the Afghan Military English. He said he was preparing to go back to visit next year but now fears he may not be able to return.

“Everyone is sad and everyone trying to get out and we don’t know what the future will bring,” he said.

Resettling refugee families in Northeast Ohio is the mission of the International Institute of Akron.

“It’s a very urgent situation,” said Kevin Walter, the advocacy and outreach coordinator of the International Institute of Akron. “We have resettled over 200 individuals from Afghanistan over the last eight to 10 years.”

The nonprofit is currently working to expand staff to build up the capacity to help more refugees fleeing their homeland.

The International Institute of Akron has already helped one family of nine recently resettle in the area.

“It’s a quick exit situation where it’s take what you can because now is your time to go,” said Walter.

US Together Cleveland is one of three local resettlement agencies also aiding in the process of assisting Afghan refugees. Ron Hedrick, Site Director of US Together Cleveland, said they have resettled nearly 450 Afghans with special immigrant visas in the past 10 years.

During the month of August, they received two cases, a total of 10 people from Afghanistan.

However, Hedrick said US Together Cleveland has not received any additional clients or cases since the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

“Flights previously assured for Cleveland, Ohio are currently in process of being rescheduled,” he said.

Hedrick stated US Together is consulting with the local Afghan community and is “hiring previous Afghan SIVs resettled in Cleveland, Ohio to work as cultural liaisons and case managers to ensure representation and understanding of issues/concerns affecting their community. UST-Cleveland also plans to hire several Afghan SIVs as interpreters/translations within our interpreting services social enterprise as well.”

For those in Afghanistan too afraid to leave as the constant threat of attack looms, here’s a message from one man who did.

“Take care of yourself because they are searching door to door,” said the special immigrant visa holder. “Our girls and sisters, they got education, we had freedom, so now everything has gone back to before.”

He is now hoping the people of his home country can remain safe and strong as progress begins to unravel.

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