Afghan doctor's family endures Taliban beatings to reach US: 'I want to contribute something to this country'
Afghan doctor speaks out on harrowing Kabul escape
Dr. Wais Aria spoke with Fox News about his family’s frightening encounter with Taliban fighters and said the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is ‘unwise.’
Dr. Wais Aria, an Afghan human rights activist whose work centers on treating women and children who have survived trauma from terrorism, war and domestic violence, barely made it out of Kabul with his own family after Taliban fighters assaulted him multiple times outside the airport.
But now, separated from TABISH, the nonprofit he founded with just a donated laptop and built into an NGO with its own office building and 350 employees, he’s already trying to give back in the U.S.
“People treat me as a refugee…burdening the shoulder of government,” the soft-spoken but animated medical doctor told Fox News Friday. “But as a human being, I want to contribute something with this country, with this nation – that is the first goal for me.”
Aria and his wife are Afghan nationals with green cards who have lived in Virginia since 2017. The youngest of their four children is an American citizen, and they went back to Afghanistan earlier this summer to visit relatives and so Aria could do work for his NGO.
“We never thought that the country, the regime would collapse,” he said.
And President Biden’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops left them shocked when the news reached them at a relative’s home.
Dr. Wais Aria is a medical doctor and human rights activist whose work focused on treating trauma in children and women, including child soldiers.
“One of our colleagues told us how the situation was very tense, ‘There’s news that Kabul collapsed and the Taliban captured it,’” Aria said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’”
A happy stay with extended family turned into “concern and disaster,” he said, as he, his wife and their children went into hiding. They feared for their safety because of their ties to the U.S. and his work with TABISH, which has partnered with USAID and other Western organizations.
And other relatives who worked with his nonprofit remain in Afghanistan and in hiding, he said, and some have blamed his work for causing them danger.
“I told them I did not do anything wrong – I helped people,” he said. “Thousands of people, I brought positive change on the lives of children and women.”
He also paid salaries to hundreds of workers, who in turn supported their own families, and the Taliban takeover uprooted all of that, with reports of militants going door to door and disappearing people with ties to the U.S.
After several days of moving from place to place, the State Department sent him an email telling him which airport gate to go to and when, Aria said.
But his documents meant nothing to Taliban militants manning checkpoints outside Kabul’s airport, he said. Some of them couldn’t even read and couldn’t tell the difference between regular ID cards and passports.
On multiple occasions, when he asked to pass, he was beaten and forced back, he said. On one attempt, his daughter fainted. At another point, they made it to the gate but were denied entry and spent days waiting in the street.
After one beating, Aria said he was ready to give up on leaving and try to find a place to hide. But his brother talked him out of it.
“He said, ‘If you stay here, it would be a risk for you, for your children, for me and for our family,'” Aria said. “So…in any scenario, you have to get out of this country, you don’t have any other choice.”
He finally made it through the gate, took the 45-minute walk to the terminal, caught a flight to Qatar, then to Germany, and ultimately back to the U.S.
But now safe in Virginia, he said he’s uncertain about what to do next. As someone whose entire life has been dedicated to helping those less fortunate, he said he doesn’t want to be viewed as a refugee.
“I have a lot of skills I can contribute for the betterment of this country,” he said.
So he’s already partnering with a new group in the U.S. to provide mental health support, English classes and other programs to evacuees.
There are tens of thousands of special immigrant visa recipients who fled Taliban rule in the past few weeks. Aria said his “big ambition” is to help guide them into fitting in, finding work and living normal lives.
“More support in order that they be able to work in this country and live their normal life,” he said, “not to depend just on country benefits or just to ask [for] donations.”
He said it’s a complicated effort and he’s not sure yet how he’ll accomplish his goals – but it’s his new American dream.
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