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Afghan interpreter recounts a chilling escape from Kabul and a warm welcome in Rhode Island

In their first days here, Aminullah Faqiry’s family has received Halloween treats and an unexpected gift from a stranger

Aminullah Faqiry, an Afghan interpreter for the US military, arrived in Rhode Island last weekend with his family.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Shots rang out. His wife was crying. His four young children were crying.

As he approached a gate at Kabul International Airport on Aug. 18, Aminullah Faqiry, a front-line Afghan interpreter who had worked with the US military and State Department for nearly 12 years, stepped into a scene of sheer chaos.

Taliban fighters ringed the airport, firing weapons and beating people with AK-47s as desperate Afghans tried to flee the country ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing US troops.

Members of the Taliban — men who US forces had been tracking for years, men who had killed Faqiry’s friends, US soldiers, and Afghan soldiers — were standing just yards away.


US soldiers emerged and escorted him and his family through the gate and into the airport. He describes two of the soldiers — “Staff Sergeant Nick and Lieutenant Robert” — as his “guardian angels.”

Two hours later, as he lined up outside a C-130 aircraft bound for Qatar, preparing to leave the country where he was born and where his parents still live, he began to cry.

Faqiry spoke to the Globe as he sat in a classroom at the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, the state’s main refugee resettlement agency. He and his family arrived at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport on Oct. 30, and they’re now staying temporarily with a host family in Providence. Dorcas International will help them find permanent housing.

A certificate of appreciation was given to Aminullah Faqiry, an Afghan interpreter for the US military who just arrived in Rhode Island with his family.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

A dozen Afghan evacuees came to Rhode Island on their own earlier this year, but Faqiry’s family represents the first of the 250 Afghans the federal government will be sending to Rhode Island between now and Feb. 15, said Anne Fortier, director of refugee and immigrant navigation services at Dorcas International.

An Afghan family of five is expected to arrive in Rhode Island on Nov. 6, and a family of eight is expected after that, Fortier said. While many of the Afghans will arrive with a “humanitarian parole” designation, Faqiry said he is in the final stages of securing a special immigrant visa, which is given to those who were employed by or on behalf of the US government in Afghanistan.


Faqiry said he was overcome with emotion as he prepared to board the plane to leave Afghanistan, and people began looking at him, wondering why he wasn’t happy to be escaping an incredibly precarious situation. But he knew the source of his tears.

“I am a very patriotic person,” Faqiry explained. “I cried for my people, for my country, for the system being destroyed, for so many sacrifices that we had made.”

He said he cried for the family members he was leaving behind — for his mother and father, who are struggling with health problems, and for the widow and the children of his brother, who was killed by the Taliban.

“I was crying because a lot of people died there,” Faqiry said, recalling the soldiers that he ate breakfast with, only to see them killed or maimed later that same day by improvised explosive devices.

He said he was crying because the Afghan people had been “liberated” before the Taliban arrived.

“Women were able to go to school, and a girl was able to walk on the streets free without tension and without fear,” he said. “Afghanistan was growing up. We were on the move to compete in the world, to compete to be one of the top middle-Asian countries.”


But now, he said, it was clear “We were going to go back — my country was going to be thrown back like 50 years.”

Now, he said, it was clear “We are leaving everything behind to the Taliban, who we fought for 20 years and who are a terrorist organization.”

Now, he said, it was clear, “We were not able to hold on — we had fallen.”

So while he realized he would be heading to the United States, that his wife would be safe, and his children would be able to get an education here, he felt nothing but sorrow.

“I wanted my country and my people to have been peaceful. It just didn’t happen,” Faqiry said. “I was crying because we lost everything.”

In a 2015 photograph, Aminullah Faqiry, an Afghan interpreter for the US military, wore his Special Unit uniform. He and his wife and four children are staying temporarily with a host family in Providence.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The C-130 carried him to Qatar, where he spent 18 days volunteering as an interpreter at a military clinic. After a brief stop in Germany, he arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport.

“We were so happy. My children were happy. My wife was happy,” Faqiry said. “She said, ‘Now we are peaceful. We are in the land of the free, the United States, where everybody has their voice heard.’”

From Philadelphia, he went to the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, where he again volunteered as an interpreter.

And then on Oct. 30, he flew to Rhode Island. Among those waiting to greet him was Jonathan Dator, a psychologist who works at Providence College’s personal counseling center.


Dator volunteers with No One Left Behind, a nonprofit “dedicated to ensuring that America keeps its promise to our interpreters from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Faqiry said Dator has been a huge help, providing support and helping him navigate the special immigrant visa process.

“He has become more than a best friend — he’s like a brother to me,” Faqiry said of Dator. “He has been there for us.”

Faqiry said Dator is the reason he chose to come to Rhode Island, even though his brother is a US citizen who lives in Virginia. “I chose to come to Rhode Island because Jon told me that ‘You are dreaming big and you could start from a small place,’” he said.

At the airport, Faqiry also was greeted by Omar Bah and Teddi Jallow, from the Providence-based Refugee Dream Center, which has been preparing to welcome Afghan refugees to Rhode Island.

Faqiry, who speaks six languages, said he has had no problem understanding the Rhode Island accent. “I have worked with people from different states, so I am used to all the pronunciations in the United States,” he said. “They tell me I have a California accent.”

On Halloween night, his host family took his children — ages 2, 4, 6, and 10 — trick-or-treating. “It was their first Halloween,” he said. “I explained to my kids the Halloween situation, and they just loved the candies. They were like ‘Yeah, let’s collect some candies.’”


Faqiry also received a treat when he went to a local Target store: A man he did not know recognized him from TV news coverage of his arrival at the airport and handed him a $200 gift card.

Faqiry said he used the money to buy winter clothes for his children. “That meant the whole world to me,” he said.

Baha Sadr, the quality assurance director at Dorcas International, said the gift from the man at Target is one sign of a wider welcome and of people rallying around a common cause.

“In the past 20 years that I’ve been involved in the refugee resettlement program, I’ve never seen anything like this — the outpouring of communities coming together to support this humanitarian effort has been just astonishing,” Sadr said. “It has been heartwarming, and it just shows that working together toward a humanitarian effort heals communities in spite of our differences.”

Faqiry, 32, said he is hoping his parents and other members of his extended family will be able to join him in the United States.

In Afghanistan, he joined with friends to start an organization, called Hope and Change, that helped provide people with education and food. And now, he said, he’d like to join with a Rhode Island organization that could “help my people back in Afghanistan” by providing food and money.

But in the meantime, Faqiry said, he is overwhelmed by the welcome he has received in Rhode Island. “We were so happy to finally make it to our destination where we will start a new life,” he said.

His wife is pregnant, with a due date of Dec. 5.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.