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Two years later: Afghan refugees reflect on fleeing the Taliban to Green Bay

Posted at 1:04 PM, Aug 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-16 14:04:28-04

GREEN BAY, Wis (NBC 26) — Tuesday is the two-year anniversary of the evacuation of Afghanistan.

It was on this date in 2021 that the Afghan government collapsed as the Taliban took over Kabul.

Since then, the United States has welcomed nearly 90,000 Afghanis. The majority of them were granted parole in the United States.

We got the chance to sit down with family still settling into their new life in Green Bay.

Two years later: Afghan refugees reflect on fleeing the Taliban to Green Bay
Two years later: Afghan refugees reflect on fleeing the Taliban to Green Bay

"When the Taliban came to our country then he have to leave Afghanistan because he doesn't feel safe there," Yousuf Hakimi says through a translator about his time in Afghanistan.

Yousuf, spent 18 years as a Special Commander with the U.S. Military. When the Taliban took over he says his safety was threatened and Yousuf was forced to flee his home province of Khost.

"We came by three parts. One of them, my father and mother. They came together," says Yousuf's son, Sabawoon Hakimi.

It took three days but they were able to slip past the Taliban and the family of 11 made it safely to Kabul.

It took more than two weeks to travel the more than 6,800 miles from Kabul, to Qatar, Italy then New Jersey.

Yousuf says overcrowding of Afghan refugees in New Jersey forced them to move again, this time to Green Bay.

Yousuff's 16-year-old son, Sabawoon, joined the conversation and loosely translated what Yousuff says it was like for his father to leave his war-torn country.

Two years later: Afghan refugees reflect on fleeing the Taliban to Green Bay
Hakimi family talks to NBC 26's Nina Sparano about fleeing the Taliban in 2021 and about their new life in Green Bay.

"When we came to the United States, we became safe and we are feeling good. He said we are fine there's like no war, no nothing. There are so happy [with] the American government. We are safe. Our family is safe. Safe in the United States."

Over the years, we have seen heartbreaking images of refugees fleeing Taliban rule but none of them capture what the experience was like for a child.

"In Afghanistan, we didn't have fun. Just kind of like, just our feet were kind of dirty. We didn't have shoes, and we didn't have anything. That's why we went without shoes," says Raihan Hakimi, Yousuf's youngest son.

"The scariest part of Afghanistan was at night and at night I just couldn't step out of the house I was just kind of too scared," he says.

At just 8 years old, Raihan just wanted to play.

"We didn't have anything to play with and we didn't have parks," he adds.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay have helped roughly 140 Afghan refugees resettle here.

Helping families like the Hakimi's with its support and placement programs.

And, with 140 more refugees expected to resettle here in the next fiscal year, Catholic Charities is reaching out for more support from the community.

"Long-term housing is still a number one concern we have and the need that we have. Not only housing but attainable and affordable housing that is often a barrier for us to welcome even more people to our community," says Karmen Lemke, Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Now 10 years old, Raihan may not understand all that his father went through to bring his family to the U.S., but he knows after two years in Green Bay his life is full of fun, freedom, and a future.

"They tell me I'm going to be a doctor every day in school," Raihan laughs. I'm good in school too."

For more information about the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay click here. If you would like to help local refugees, click here.