40 Calif. Parents and Kids Got Stuck in Afghanistan amid Taliban Takeover: 'Nobody Is Doing Well'

Many of the families reportedly landed in the country in May and June before the Taliban seized power

Afghan evacuees
Photo: ARMANDO BABANI/AFP via Getty

More than three dozen people — including 24 children — from a California suburb became ensnared in the unfolding chaos in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover earlier this month, the Associated Press reports.

The families from El Cajon, a city located 15 miles outside San Diego, had traveled to the country this summer to visit relatives, including their grandparents, according to the AP.

Some members of the group, which also includes 16 parents, witnessed violence in and around the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in recent days as they tried to return home.

The Kabul airport is under military control and has been the focal point of U.S.-led evacuation efforts that have so far seen some 100,000 people leave the country since mid-August.

Fraidoon Hassemi, an Afghan working as community liaison for the El Cajon Valley Union School District, has spoken with the families.

"Nobody is doing well," Hassemi, a naturalized citizen who came to the United States on a special visa in 2015, told the AP. "They are trying their best to get to the airport, get to their gates and get on an airplane. The situation is very horrible."

On Thursday, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that one family of seven in the group had successfully returned to California while efforts continued for the others.

Afghan evacuees
Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The families, which were not part of an organized trip, were originally unable to board their flights back to the U.S. following the Afghanistan government's rapid collapse two weeks ago amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Hassemi told the AP.

Many of the Californians landed in the country in May and June before the Taliban seized power in August after the president fled the country and unrest began.

They were subsequently caught up in the conflict.

"What happened in Afghanistan was unexpected for everybody," Hassemi told the AP. "Everyone was shocked that in one week, everything changed."

Afghan evacuees
ARMANDO BABANI/AFP via Getty

In the wake of the announcement that the military would exit Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the U.S. government had issued travel warnings and told people to leave.

Still, Hassemi said many felt compelled to visit after travel bans from the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from seeing their families for an extended period of time.

California Rep. Darrell Issa's office has been helping the El Cajon families.

"I'm working diligently to determine the best ways to help those trapped return home safely. I won't stop until we have answers and action," he tweeted on Wednesday.

His office told the AP that they have been coordinating with the State Department and the Pentagon.

"Congressman Issa and staff are aware of several American citizens who reside in our district," a spokesman said in an email to the AP, noting the families had yet to escape. "We have also been in direct and consistent contact with them, they are scared and stranded, and they've been unable to reach the airport."

Afghan evacuees
ARMANDO BABANI/AFP via Getty

On Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan warned people at the various entry points around the airport to leave immediately because of a security threat.

On Thursday, fighters with the Islamic State, which opposes the U.S. and the Taliban, attacked the airport at one of those gates, killing 12 U.S. service members and multiple civilians.

President Joe Biden promised retribution.

Relatives of at least one of the California families previously contacted the El Cajon school district to inform them that their child would be late starting the school year, which began Aug. 17.

Superintendent David Miyashiro told the AP that the families are concerned about the U.S.'s Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country.

Afghanistan evacuations
MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES via Getty

"Just like you and I, they had used the summer to go back to see their relatives," Miyashiro said. "No one felt that they were going to be unsafe or unable to return."

Hassemi said he believes the students stranded overseas will likely need support when they return home: "I'm sure they are going to be affected emotionally."

If you would like to support those in need during the upheaval in Afghanistan, consider:

* Donating to UNICEF to aid Afghans in the country or

* Donating to the International Refugee Assistance Project to help those fleeing.

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