27 Sacramento Students Thought to Be Stuck in Afghanistan: 'Hope for Their Speedy and Safe Return'

A school spokesman cautioned that "these numbers continue to change rapidly" and "we believe that some of these families may be in transit out of Afghanistan"

Children board a school bus in a line
Children board a school bus in a line. Photo: Getty Images

Two days after the last U.S. flight flew out of Kabul — putting an official end to America's 20-year war in Afghanistan — a group of 27 Sacramento, California, students are thought to still be stuck in the country or are still trying to get home, according to their school district.

On Wednesday, Raj Rai, director of communication for the San Juan Unified School District, told PEOPLE that students from 19 families were in the country.

But, she cautioned in an emailed statement, "these numbers continue to change rapidly."

"We believe that some of these families may be in transit out of Afghanistan, as we have not been able to reach many of them in the last few days," she says.

The students and their families, hse says, "were in Afghanistan for personal reasons, such as visiting family members during their summer break."

She says they range in age "from elementary school to high school." He says he cannot comment on their citizenship status.

Rai adds that the district had been contacted by "multiple congressional offices to coordinate information and offer help."

"We stand ready to support these students and families in whatever way that we can, and are working closely with state officials to provide them information as we receive it from our families," she says. "San Juan Unified stands with our Afghan community and all those whose loved ones are currently in Afghanistan. We sincerely hope for their speedy and safe return back to the U.S. and back to our school communities."

The news about the Sacramento students comes roughly one week after more than three dozen other people — including 24 children — from a different California school district were also ensnared in the unfolding chaos in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Families from El Cajon, a city outside San Diego, had traveled to the country over the summer to visit relatives and attempted to return home after witnessing violence in and around the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

Fraidoon Hassemi, an Afghan working as community liaison for the El Cajon Valley Union School District who had spoken with the families, told PEOPLE: "What happened, it shocked everyone and we still aren't believing it yet."

"When I talked to the families, this is like something you see in a movie, not something in front of your eyes," Hashemi said on Monday.

As of this week, the bulk of those families — except for one, including three students — had gotten out of Afghanistan.

School children
Schoolchildren. Getty Images

On Monday afternoon, Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announced the completion of the withdrawal, hedging by noting that the mission to get additional Americans and eligible vulnerable Afghans out of the country remains ongoing.

"While the military evacuation is complete, the diplomatic mission to ensure additional U.S. citizens and eligible Afghans who want to leave continues," McKenzie said.

He added that the Department of State would be working "very hard to allow any American citizens that are left" to leave the country.

"I believe that we're going to — we're going to be able to get those people out, and I think we're also going to negotiate very hard and very aggressively to get our other Afghan partners out," McKenzie said.

Later on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken estimated there were around 100 Americans, less than 200, who were still in Afghanistan after the weeks-long evacuation "and want to leave." But the administration didn't know the exact number.

The State Department has not responded to PEOPLE's requests regarding those who remain in Afghanistan and how or when they will be able to leave.

In remarks from the White House on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that most of the estimated 100 to 200 Americans who remain in Afghanistan and want to leave are dual citizens — "longtime residents that earlier decided to stay because of their family roots," he said.

Since March, well before the military withdrew, the president said the administration has reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with warnings and offers to evacuate them from the country.

"Bottom line: Ninety percent of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline," he said. "We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out."

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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