Seven months after what was described as a “round-the-clock effort” to rescue Afghan refugees, it all came to fruition Tuesday when they were welcomed to the United States.
In an email sent out to supporters, 8th District Congresswomen Elissa Slotkin said that she, along with a small group from her office, Spirit of America Worldwide, Yalda Hakim and a veteran of the Michigan State University GRAIN program, greeted 114 Afghan nationals at Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. as they “took their first steps into the United States,” adding that “In this line of work, it’s not every day you get to see the tangible results of government when it works.” The group was the first of the 6,000 Afghans scattered in several countries who will eventually settle in the U.S.
Slotkin detailed how she and her team, “with the help of a group of veterans, former national security professionals, non-profit leaders, and brave folks on the ground” worked together last August as the Taliban closed in the capital of Kabul to help evacuate the Afghans before the country fell.
Slotkin said the effort began when her office learned that a group of Afghan nationals with ties to Michigan State University needed help to get out of country after the withdrawal of U.S. forces precipitated a rapid collapse of government forces. Slotkin said the group, which included former deputy ministers and staff of the former Afghan government, “had worked for or with the United States – and were now in danger because of it.”
After managing to transport the group successfully through Taliban checkpoints to the airport, the group was able to board flights to Albania, where she visited them in November, as part of a bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives. She called that trip “without a doubt one of the most moving experiences of my career.”
Slotkin said she was deeply thankful to Spirit of America – a non-profit organization that covered their expenses – and for the Albanian government, “who welcomed these folks into their country (on extremely short notice), and worked with us to provide a safe waiting place until the next step of their journey.”
That next step was Tuesday when, after what she said was “a lot of lobbying” from herself and a bipartisan group of legislators they were able to help get the group through the necessary vetting procedures and into the U.S.
Slotkin, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the CIA, said that in a career filled with working in war zones, this seven-month journey was one of the things she was most proud of. She also related that when she visited the refugees in November, one of the Afghans asked her not to forget them.
“In each of their faces, I saw my grandparents and great-grandparents who also made the terrifying journey from everything they had ever known for a better life in the United States,” she said. “I’m humbled I was able to witness these Afghans’ first steps into a country that has given me so much. Forgetting them is impossible.”