Afghan Family Now Safe in U.S. Fears Taliban's Threat to Their Relatives: 'Searching Homes and Killing People'

Bushra Farkish fled to America with her husband and son just as the Taliban stormed Kabul: "We are lucky to be out. Nobody is safe there"

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Bushra Farkish and son, Liam, in Seattle. Photo: Brian bowen smith

It's been almost a month since Bushra Farkish, her husband, Qais Wared, and their 11-month-old son flew out of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, the day the capital fell to Taliban control and life as she'd always known it vanished.

"It was really difficult for me to accept that all of the work done in this past 20 years — when we tasted freedom and our rights — is now gone. It's nothing," the Afghan citizen, 26 and now living in the Seattle area on a Special Immigrant Visa, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "We are lucky to be out. Nobody is safe there."

Bushra's daily calls home are increasingly alarming.

Her parents -— her father worked for the Afghan judicial system; her mother, as a teacher — are suddenly jobless and afraid to leave their house near Kabul; her grandparents and three youngest siblings (of six total) remain there.

"We are receiving reports from our relatives that [the Taliban] are searching the houses, looking for former government officers," says Qais, 30, who had worked for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and feared he was also a target after, he says, the Taliban killed three of his DEA colleagues over the last several years.

"They're killing those people anonymously, they are killing Afghan soldiers and national security soldiers, specifically," Qais says. "The people who live there, they know about what they are doing there."

* For more on Bushra Farkish's evacuation from Afghanistan and her life in the U.S., subscribe to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

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TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll, left, Bushra, Liam and Qais in Virginia. Courtesy Bonnie Carroll/TAPS

Bushra was 6 when the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in 2001 and, growing up in a district of Kabul, she doesn't remember the time when women were denied higher education and most jobs, unlike her mother.

(Women and girls in the country's rural areas, home to the majority of the country's population, faced their own challenges over the decades, without the same breakthroughs.)

"She says that the Taliban has not changed a little bit even," Bushra says of her mom. "They have been in the mountains for the past 20 years. They have not got any education, no civilization, nothing at all. So how can they change? Nothing has changed since past 20 years. Taliban is the same Taliban."

Already, the Taliban has come frighteningly close to her family. On a recent call with her mother, Bushra learned that when some fighters noticed her younger sisters and had marriage intentions, her 20-year-old sister and a brother, 18, escaped with Qais' family to Qatar.

"I couldn't believe this was really happening to my own family," Bushra says. The other sister, 17, is "too attached to my mom; she didn't want to leave."

"In the middle of the night, I would wake up and see her studying," says Bushra. "She wanted to enter the School of Economics. Now she tells me, 'I have no hopes anymore.'"

Bushra, meanwhile, grew up going to school, becoming fluent in five languages and earning two college degrees — in computer science and business.

Since 2016 she was working with the U.S.-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), whose Afghan Hope Project trains Afghan war widows to make lapis bracelets that help fund the group's services for the families of fallen American service personnel.

"It was a beautiful way for the widows of Afghanistan to honor the American widows and for us to give economic opportunity to the widows of Afghanistan," explains TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll.

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Bushra says good-bye to her family in Kabul on Aug. 15. Courtesy Bushra Farkish

After Bushra, Qais and Liam landed in Virginia on Aug. 17, they continued on to Lynnwood, Washington, near Seattle, joining Bushra's sister Anosha, 24, her husband (who worked for the U.S. embassy in Kabul) and their 2-year-old son in their two-bed room apartment.

"For several days I couldn't believe we made it out," says Bushra. "I never imagined I would come to the United States."

"It breaks my heart sometimes," she says, "that I had to leave everything and everyone behind and start from zero." Bushra says she only left in order to give baby Liam a better life.

Qais is looking for work in finance, while Bushra continues, remotely, her TAPS work with Afghan widows. TAPS director of international programs Kyle Harper marshaled friends to shower the newcomers with everything from a spatula to diapers: "I put out a call on Facebook — 'Can someone help me buy my friend a bed?' — and it spiraled from there."

Harper, whose fiancé was an army staff sergeant killed in Iraq in 2007, feels a kinship with Bushra. "You had a life planned," she says, "and then all of sudden, it's taken away."

Meanwhile, Bushra and Qais are overwhelmed with how welcoming they have found Americans. Says Bushra: "What else can we wish for?"

If you'd like to help, you can support Bushra Farkish's work with the Afghan Hope Project at shop.taps.org.

Donations to the International Refugee Assistance Project (refugeerights.org) and International Rescue Committee (rescue.org) support the evacuation and resettlement of at-risk Afghans.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (lirsconnect.org) seeks volunteers and donations to help arriving refugees. And Airbnb is giving free housing to 20,000 Afghan refugees worldwide. To share your home, go to airbnb.org/refugees.

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