ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — An Afghan refugee living in Albany, New York, is desperately pleading for her children’s safety after the government collapsed and the Taliban swept into Kabul, the country’s capital.
Speaking through an interpreter, Suneeta, a lawful, permanent U.S. resident, said her four children in Kabul have been trying to get away from a situation growing more dire by the hour.
“I am worried for my children’s safety because the Taliban is taking over. Everyone is running away from the Kabul city and trying to get out of the country,” said Suneeta, “but they are unsupervised kids by themselves all alone in an apartment and are really scared and afraid because of Taliban coming in. They’ve heard the horror stories of them taking girls or taking people whose families used to work with the U.S.”
Suneeta’s last name and the names of her children, aged 7 to 17, are not being used due to safety concerns. “I am very worried,” she says. “I didn’t sleep all night. I was up all night talking with them.”
Suneeta’s kids have been approved for ‘humanitarian parole’, a classification used to bring someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the United States for a temporary period of time due to an emergency, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Typically, once children have been approved for humanitarian parole they next go for an interview at the embassy. There, they would also get visas enabling them to take a commercial flight bound for New York. However, the embassy isn’t doing interviews or visa services right now, so the search is on to find another way to bring Suneeta’s children to the U.S.
Suneeta’s husband and the father of her children worked with the U.S. military as an interpreter and team leader with the security forces at Camp Eggers. He disappeared while Suneeta was pregnant with their fourth child. He has not been heard from since 2013 and is presumed to be dead. It is believed that he was taken by the Taliban due to his work with the U.S. military.
According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Suneeta fled to Pakistan with her children after her husband’s disappearance. They were given refugee status by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Sometime later, one of Suneeta’s brothers-in-law visited and was playing with the children outside. Suneeta later realized that he had kidnapped the children and had taken them to her husband’s family. In Afghanistan, women do not have custody rights to their children if the father passes away; it is common practice that the children are passed to the father’s family, according to USCRI.
The children ended up escaping their paternal family and fled back to Pakistan, where they stayed with a maternal uncle for a few months before he left them to return to Afghanistan to care for his own family. The embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, gave the children an interview date but turned them away because they did not have passports. The children then returned to Afghanistan to obtain the documents needed. All that was left was the final step of an interview at the embassy before they would be granted humanitarian parole, according to USCRI.
The children now live alone in an apartment in Afghanistan. Suneeta worries they will be seen by the Taliban as targets because of their father’s status as a U.S. interpreter.
Sara Lowry, staff attorney at U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), has been working on cases for Suneeta and her children since 2018. “Hers is one of tens of thousands of stories. We have a very large SIV [Special Immigrant Visas] population in the Capital District,” she says.