Afghan interpreters, families seeking refuge from Taliban rule left waiting at Kabul airport for hours: friend

Afghan interpreters, families seeking refuge from Taliban rule left waiting at Kabul airport for hours: friend

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A Tennessee woman and her husband are working around the clock to bring three Afghan interpreters and their families – including a child under a year old – to safety from the country as the Taliban have taken over, Fox News has learned. 

The three Afghan interpreters and their eight relatives have been hiding from the Taliban since the militant group infiltrated the country over the past several days, said Ellen Perez, whose husband grew close with the trio while working as a private contractor in Afghanistan for about a year.

“When we first started reaching out to people, whether it’s congressmen, senators … we said, you know, we will house these people. We will pay for these people,” Perez said Friday, when reached by phone. Her husband remains “very, very close” with the interpreters – one of whom lost a brother to a recent Taliban attack, Perez said. The father of another one of the interpreters had been killed by the Taliban years earlier, she added. 

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Photo shows a group of people, including an Afghan interpreter and a 7-month-old baby, awaiting travel instructions at a Kabul airport. (Courtesy Ellen Perez)

Photo shows a group of people, including an Afghan interpreter and a 7-month-old baby, awaiting travel instructions at a Kabul airport. (Courtesy Ellen Perez)
(Courtesy Ellen Perez)

The youngest of the people whom Perez and her family are trying to help is only seven months old, she said. Perez described how her husband fondly referred to one of the interpreters as his “Afghan son.” 

She would not disclose any information about them out of fear for their safety. 

“[We] feel it’s very important for Americans to have compassion in this situation. These are not random, uninvited immigrants pouring over a porous border. These are people that we gave our word to,” she said. “They worked alongside us, believing in our cause. And we gave our word that if … they needed to leave because there were danger from the Taliban, then we would help them do so.”

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The interpreters received a message purportedly from the U.S. government first-thing Wednesday morning telling them to go to Hamid Karzai International Airport and “plan to enter the airport at Camp Sullivan,” which would open at 8 a.m. local time.

The message includes a note that updates would be provided if gates changed.

“The United States government cannot ensure safe passage to the Hamid Karzai International airport,” the memo states in all capital letters. It includes an attached visa.

With only about one hour before the gate opened, all three families followed the instructions and traveled into Kabul. They brought with them “a little bit of water, and some biscuit,” Perez said. But what they had hoped would be the end of a nightmare turned out to be the extension of it. 

With the baby, they waited all day, overnight and into Thursday in the cold before they were told at 4 p.m. that the gate would not be opening after all, Perez said. 

“The cold night air for a second night – they thought that was a safety concern for the baby. At that point, [they] said, you know, we just can’t last anymore out here.”

Perez added: “This is utterly heartbreaking.” 

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As of 5 p.m. ET Friday, the interpreters and their families were awaiting any potential word from the U.S. government. 

“I don’t believe it will do anyone, me included, any good to focus on the negative outcomes … because they’re very real,” Perez continued. “There’s already losses in the family, they know how real this is.”

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