By: Jamie Harvey, Reporter
OMAHA, Neb-Mujtaba Karimi believed in young Afghans. He believed that his generation, educated and supported by American investment, would help lead Afghanistan into a bright future of opportunity, liberty, and democracy.
Karimi worked in the office of the Afghan President, preparing briefs and heading up outreach to the younger generation.
When Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, 2021, he watched years of work erased in a day.
“Our generation lost hope, lost democracy, lost freedom, lost everything,” Karimi said.
He was in the office, attempting to coordinate a meeting with ministers, when his life went from normal to chaos within an hour. Through the hectic fall of the city, Karimi made his way to the airport and held up his political passport, shouting, “I’m a diplomat I need help.” A U.S. soldier took his hands and led him to an evacuation plane.
After a few brief stops in Qatar and D.C., he landed in Texas, where he stayed in temporary housing in a military base while officials scrambled to find placements for the surge of refugees.
When officials told Karimi he was being resettled in Omaha, he googled the city and saw corn and the Henry Doorly Zoo. He joked that he would have to become a good farmer.
When he first arrived, he walked from 102nd St. to Downtown Omaha, learning about the city. After a few weeks, Karimi learned to use the bus system. With some help, he got his driver’s license and a job unloading boxes at Walmart.
Karimi is one of the over 1,000 Afghan refugees to resettle in Omaha after the fall of Afghanistan. However, not every at-risk Afghan made it out of the country.
The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program was designed to grant permanent residence to Afghans who helped the U.S. military. According to an Office of the Inspector General report, severe backlogs in the State SIV processing system “may have delayed vulnerable Afghan allies from reaching safety in the United States.” In October, the State Department had over 325,000 unopened emails in the SIV application inbox.
“There are thousands of applicants still stranded inside and outside of Afghanistan waiting for their documents to be processed,” said the Director of UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies Sher Jan Ahmadzai. “We can do a better job, no doubt on that part.”
But escaping Afghanistan is only the first step in refugees’ quest for a safe, prosperous life.
As one of the first Afghan refugees to come to Omaha after the Taliban took power, Karimi started a WhatsApp group to help teach newer refugees how to learn the language, overcome culture shock and live in Omaha.
Although it’s not as glamorous as his old career, Karimi has an office job again. He now works for a refugee resettlement agency, helping other refugees settle into their new lives. Karimi said he needed help last year but now, “I help other refugee.”
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