Everyone is Equal Here
Inside a blue and white Minneapolis home shaded by a peaceful, summer canopy of trees, Zalmai Hanifi* sprinkles cardamom in his guests’ green tea. As he passes the teacups, he shares about the changes in his family’s life since the summer of 2021.
“At least now we are not thinking about any threats of Taliban,” Zalmai said. “Now we are feeling good. Especially once my children got their school and we got our employment.”
Long before the world watched the chaotic evacuation unfold in Afghanistan, the Hanifi family knew they needed a plan for escape. Anyone who worked for the former Afghan or U.S. governments lived in fear of the Taliban’s retribution. As a livestock veterinarian and occasional translator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Zalmai shared that fear.
When Kabul fell, change came swiftly. His eldest daughter, who attended Kabul University stayed home, no longer allowed by the Taliban to attend. Zalmai could no longer work.
“Life became dangerous for us. We had Taliban searching from house to house, looking for people who worked for U.S. government,” he said. “We had to make our way to leave the country.”
Though he applied for a Special Immigration Visa two years before, the process was still not complete. It was the astute thinking of his wife that helped prepare them for eventual safety.
“Before the Taliban took over Kabul, my wife encouraged me to have passport for all my family members,” Zalmai explained. “It is difficult. Now my friends, my relatives, they are not able to get passport.”
Thanks to support from his USAID colleagues – along with the Hanifi family’s own research, planning and persistence – Zalmai, his wife and his five children evacuated Afghanistan in October 2021, two months after Kabul’s collapse. They left not only their country, but also family, life-long friends and love interests. They left their home, a recently purchased car, their belongings and a garden of apricot and peach trees.
They knew their first stop would be the U.S. military base in Doha, Qatar, but after that? They couldn’t guess. The Hanifis didn’t know how long they would live in a tent, how long they would stay in Qatar, or the location of their eventual, new home. Life held so many questions. What they knew for certain was this: they were safe. They were together.
After a short stint in New Jersey, the Hanifis arrived in Minnesota on a -2 degree, January day. Here, they would start again. From the time an employee of the International Institute of Minnesota picked them up at the airport, the Institute has been a lifeline. Case managers helped them secure basic needs, find a home, apply for benefits and learn the basics of a new culture.
Another 200 Afghan refugees received similar support from the Institute. The community’s generous and swift monetary donations translated to six months of paid rent for every resettled Afghan refugee. Donated goods like winter coats, cookware and bicycles all helped families like the Hanifis begin anew in Minnesota.
“That was a good support for us and we were able to get food items. Because we were jobless and that helped us a lot for these several months. Without that, actually, it is difficult for a family to leave their country and start in another country. We appreciate that. It was good help.”